One way of looking at a yoga pose is that it is a change that we are trying to create.
In the process of going into a yoga pose we create a change because we are moving our body from one position into another. We are also changing the parts of our body, streching some muscles while strengthening others. We can also be changing our state of mind, perhaps going from lethargy and unhappiness to a more awake and happy state of being.
In doing a yoga pose (or in doing anything for that matter) we are creating a change, and a question we can ask ourselves while doing a yoga pose is
“What is the change that we are trying to create?”
One simple answer to this question is that given the particular “shape” of the yoga pose we are doing we can be trying to create as much space in our body as possible. As an example, in any pose, no matter which way we our bending our spine, or even if it isn’t bent, one thing we can try to do is make our spine long. In so doing we make our waist long, we open the ribcage and we lengthen the neck.
The degree to which these parts lengthen or open will vary depending on the pose we are in but it is still something that we can try to do.
As a compliment to creating space within our body another change that we can create is that of “letting go.” Having lengthened our spine in a pose we can then relax it, either while we are still in the pose or after we come out of it.
Why try to create space in our body?
Why then let it go?
For the experience of it and because it is what we chose to do. In addition, by using yoga postures as a way of practicing creating space within our body we can learn to carry that openness into anything that we do. We can look for the ways to create space within ourselves or around ourselves so that we have room to do what we are trying to do. (Then afterwards we can let the experience go.) But for now lets get back to creating change.
Having chosen (or been told) the change that we wish to create in a pose we can look for the way to create that change. So that it is easier to create the change that we desire we need references for this change. As an example, if we want to lengthen the spine, one of the ways that we can do this is to divide the spine into parts and then pull these parts away from each other.
Focusing on the part of the spine between the ribcage and the pelvis we can lengthen this part of the spine by keeping moving the pelvis in one direction and the ribcage in the other. We then lengthen our waist. So that we lengthen our neck we move the two parts that it connects away from each other. We move the head away from the ribcage or we move the ribcage away from our head. In either case we lengthen our neck. We create the change that we desire.
How do we create space in the ribcage? We create space between each adjacent pair of ribs. We open the spaces between our ribs. Because of the way the ribcage is structured it is a little bit difficult to do this one set of ribs at a time so we do them all at once. We bucket handle all of our ribs so that they move up and as they do so they separate and so we get space between each set of ribs. We open our ribcage.
While working at lengthening our neck it is relatively easy to pull our head up and away from our ribcage but one other thing that we can do to maximize the length of our neck and to make the lengthening even at the front and back of the neck is we can pull our chin in slightly as we pull our head back and up. Not alot but just enough that our head is level from front to back. Then our neck is maximally long not just at the front but at the back as well. Then not only have we lengthened the neck (and straightened it) we have also created a firm foundation from which the muscles that connect the neck to the shoulders can act from. As an example, the trapezius and the levator scapulae both reach down from the neck to the shoulder blade or scapula. With the neck straight and long and stable these muscles then have a firm foundation from which to pull up on the scapula. Because the neck is long they also have lots of room to pull up on the shoulder blades. As a result we can pull our shoulder blades up to our ears without these muscles “jamming up” for lack of room.
All well and good for me to say “move one part of the body away from another part to create space” but how do we know when we’ve created this space and how do we know if we are continuing to create space?
We feel our body. In this instance we feel our muscles or we sense the information that our body sends us about the state of our muscles. We also feel our joints and if we want to go even further we can also learn to feel the weight of our bones.
If we don’t already know how to feel our body, whether it is our muscles or our joints or even the weight of our bones then we practice. We practice moving the parts of our body so that we can learn to feel them so that we then have references for knowing when our muscles are active or relaxed or stretched or flacid or when our joints our open or closed, or straight or bent. As an example, we can get used to feeling our lumbar spine by tilting our pelvis back and forwards in time with our breath. Whether we inhale as we tilt our pelvis forwards or whether we exhale, what is important (in this instance) is noticing the changes that happen in our lumbar spine as we tilt our pelvis forwards and as we tilt it backwards.
Initially all we may notice is some sensations but we have no way of knowing what it is that these sensations are telling us. So we look in a mirror. With our pelvis tilted fully forwards, we notice that our lumbar spine is bent backwards and we may also notice that the back of our lumbar spine feels a little “jammed up.” We then have a reference for knowing when our lumbar spine is bent backwards.
Going the opposite way and tilting our pelvis backwards we may notice that the back of our lumbar spine feels long or stretched. We then have a reference for noticing when our lumbar spine is bent forwards. Practicing our awareness more and more we then may develop the ability to sense not only when our lumbar spine is bent forwards or backwards but when it is straight.
Using movement and to move between extremes and noticing the way we feel as we do our movements we can learn to feel the parts of our body. One important thing when using movement is to move slowly and smoothly. The slower the better. Then not only are we giving ourselves the opportunity to learn to feel our body we are also practicing our ability to control our body. To move slowly takes control. Once we’ve learned to feel our body we won’t have to move it slowly to keep on feeling it. We can then practice moving faster while still sensing the parts of our body, where they are in relationship to each other and where they are going.
So lets say that we can feel the parts of our body (or at least some parts) and that in the pose we are doing we know the changes that we are trying to create. How do we go about creating all of those changes?
If we are driving from one place to another the important thing is to know where we are going. Also important to know is where we are in relation to where we are going. If we are going to be travelling over a long distance what is also important is having stopping points or references along the way. These are places not only for us to rest but for us to check that we are where we think we are so that we can continue to head to where we are going. So for example, if we are heading from Toronto to Chicago and one of our stopping points along the way is Detroit, then if we somehow end up stopping in New York then we know we have gone wrong. And even though we have gone wrong at least we know how we have gone wrong so that we can correct. If we find that we are still on course then there is no need to correct ourselves. We can admire the scenery and then carry on with our journey but while being aware of where we are so that we can continue towards where we want to go.
Getting back to yoga, so that each change connects to the next or provides a reference for the next change what we can do is travel through our body, creating the changes that we desire as we go along.
We adjust one leg and then that leg becomes the reference for adjusing the other leg. Then we use both of our legs as our reference for adjusting our spine. Then our spine becomes our reference or jumping of point for adjusting and changing our arms. And then we are done. Or we can go back through our body again and fine tune the changes that we have made.Although I started with the legs we don’t always have to do so. We could also start by adjusting our spine first, and then do our legs and then our arms. We could also start with our arms, then adjust our spine and then adjust our legs.
If we know the change that we are trying to create then we can go about creating it, in any order that we choose.
Then if we feel our body at the same time we can experience the change that we create.
To read more about using references for change and experiencing change in specific yoga postures, click on any of the pictures below.
Having references for the change that we want to create is useful for more than just doing yoga. We may use “references” to measure change without even knowing it. For example, measuring our speed while driving if we see that we are moving at 100 mph then we are moving at 100 mph relative to the earth or relative to someone who is standing still. Measuring the speed of a ball we’ve just hit, what we are measuring is the speed of that ball relative to the earth, and relative to ourselves if we are standing still. If we are driving at 100mph and someone drives past us going at 200mph then relative to ourselves that person is going 100mph.
Measuring temperature using the Centegrade scale, if we see that it is 32degrees centigrade then that temperature is 0.32 times the difference between the temperature that water freezes and the temperature that water boils at.
Having a means of measuring temperature, not only can we measure change, but we can also create change. We can check when the oven is at a desired temperature so that we can bake our cookies. If we see that our oven is too hot or too cold we can adjust the heat so that the oven cools down or heats up to the temperature taht we need.
Having a means of measuring speed we can see if we are going faster than the speed limit and slow down. Or if we know how much time we have to get to somewhere else, we can calculate what speed we need to travel at in order to get to that place on time.
In either case, having references for change, being able to measure it, we can go about creating the change that we desire.
Learn more about “References for Change” in
Ultimate Simplicity and Efficiency