(2008 Le Tour de France)
In the last couple of weeks over the course of a couple of discussions, the concept or idea of “muscling” ones way through an ashtanga or vinyasa session has come up. I am familiar with this from my own practice, and I see it in others. Part is our competitive nature - we gotta keep up with Nancy in the corner and Joe on the mat next to us. Part is we feel we Gotta. Get. Through. Darn it. Or, I’m gonna get into this pose if it kills me! But this drive, this push, is just the opposite of what we need to be doing.
For one gal I was talking to, her enlightenment, so to speak, came from an unexpected place - a workshop focusing exclusively on core strength. She realized during the workshop that she powers her way through life, and thus, she powers her way through class. She found, that by letting go of the drive when she steps on her mat, her practice actually improved.
Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Let’s reason this out:
The ashtanga system, and to a degree a vinyasa flow class, is about a moving meditation. If we are powering our way through, are we really meditating? No, we are focusing on getting into the next pose, not on where our breath is and it is the breath that matters.
If we are powering our way through a session, are we truly relaxed? Probably not. We are subconsciously tensing our muscles to push ourselves into the posture rather than letting go and letting the body flow into the next asana. A tense muscle is going to remain rigid and inflexible and more prone to injury.
Some signs that you might be pushing rather than flowing are: clenched jaw, grunting, face is pinched and neck muscles straining, shoulders keep moving toward the ears, ujjayi breath is tight and strained or completely gone and your thoughts are on the clock rather than on your breath or drishti.
So what can you do to build awareness?
Listen to your breath
Ride the practice as you would ride a wave - smooth, bobbing up and down gracefully with each inhale and exhale. .
Move your shoulders away from your ears.
and, lastly, enjoy yourself. If you enjoy the session today, it is more likely that you will continue to enjoy it tomorrow.