Physical yoga is most beneficial
when practiced as meditation in motion, developing the skills of remaining calm, focused, and aware in challenging situations. In addition, there are practical benefits for our bodies from a physical practice. Here are some tips on how to maximize those benefits.
The physical practice of yoga is primarily about creating inner space. Gravity naturally compresses us which contributes to wear and tear on our joints. Our muscles and ligaments shrink and our range of motion decreases.
The actions we take in any yoga pose are designed to do two things—create space throughout our bodies, and strengthen our muscles so that we can maintain the space that we have created.
Creating inner space happens on many levels. These levels range from the gross— space between our arms, legs, and torso; to the more subtle—space between our joints and muscles; down to the fine—the subtle space between our cells.
One pose I often use to explain this principle is spinal balancing, though the principles apply to all poses.
The spinal balancing pose starts in the crawling position on your hands and knees. Extend your right arm out in front of you and your left leg behind you. Mentally go into your back and try to extend your spine as long as possible, literally creating space between the vertebra. The extended arm and leg, plus the back muscles are used to pull the spine into traction to create space.
After the space is created, with the arm and leg extended as long as possible, the back muscles are engaged to lift the arm and leg higher. This lifting from the back muscles strengthens the muscles around the spine, which becomes strength maintaining length.
Hold the pose with the arms lifted for 3-5 breaths. Release the arm and leg down, switch sides and repeat. Once you get the hang of it, you should be able to feel that your spine is literally longer than it was before the pose.
These space creating principles can be used in any yoga pose. I often ask myself in a pose – how can I get longer here, how can I occupy more space, can I feel as if I am expanding everywhere? Some muscles will have to be relaxed to create space, while others will need to be tensed and strengthened.
The way to know what needs to be done in any pose is to experiment, always keeping in mind the goal of maximizing space.
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