Fortifying// Letting the Shapes Support You

Effort.
Over-effort.
These I know.
For many years, I approached my practice, my work, my life with frenetic effort. (You too, maybe?)

I knew there must be another way. A better way? Yes. A better way. Pushing, shoving my way into places (even if it looked graceful from the outside) was tearing my insides up.
And don’t get me wrong: there is good reason for many alignment guidelines. But some of the guidelines bring bodies out of whack when practiced conventionally for many years.
For example, conventional alignment in trikonasana: the external rotation of the back hip, the lengthening of the side bodies and the rotation of the heart toward the sky, all of these are incredibly taxing on the sacroiliac joint: mine in particular. This is alignment I can find and due to lots of practice, this is alignment I can do in my sleep. I noticed, however, that during and after pregnancy, my SI joint suffered terribly from the alignment.
So what to do?

The alignment idea that is lighting me up and sustaining my practice right.now is fortifying what already is without aggression.

Because the pose really is an embodied metaphor for how we are living. Can we find ease in effort? Can we find effort in ease?

Some examples of alignments we have created in class recently.

trikonasana trikonasana

trikonasana_ideas4

trikonasana_ideas3

trikonasana_ideas2

trikonasana_ideas1

Following the natural curves and lines of the body,

  • while supporting potential weak spots and
  • encouraging an untangling of habitual holding patterns.

That sound lovely, but how do we do it:

  1. let yourself have your own process;
  2. feel your way into the shapes, both internally and externally by placing your hands on your own body; and
  3. try things out.

In utthita parsvakonasana, the basic structure remains the same:

  1. start in tadasana
  2. step a foot back
  3. press the ball of that foot into the floor while you move the heel toward the back of the mat
  4. originating movement from the back foot, bend the front knee (keep knee centered over the ankle)
  5. bring front hand or forearm to the top of front thigh
  6. bring back hand to hip, sky or over head

To find the fortified, sustainable alignment, we’ve been playing with

  • rounding the back on the exhalation & arching on the inhalation for a bit
  • inviting the tailbone and pelvis to soften, drawing the belly toward the spine, keeping the belly and heart shining straight ahead, rather than up over head
  • refraining from lengthening the side-body
  • “breathing” with the exposed side of the body

From there, slowing inching toward trikonasana.

  • some students have been leaving the forearm or hand on the upper thigh for support
  • consider rounding and arching again
  • let the back hip be neutral or even (gasp!) internally rotated!

Notice what comes up as you play with the idea of alignment. If you consider that most modern postures have evolved over the last century or so, think about where the resistance to changing alignment comes from.

To contrast, here are a few older photos of my practice where I can *see* or remember that I am totally over-efforting to find “correct” alignment. Visually, there might not be much of a difference, but as I’m always saying in class, yoga is happening where it looks like nothing is happening. So the shift might not be apparently visible, but I feel it in my bones. I remember a sense of depletion from too much alignment refinement and an almost fortified, re-mineralized sense from the way I’m approaching the shapes now.

parsvakonasana_old parsvakonasana_old2

However,

there are things that feel natural and easy and normal in the body that are places of potential weakness or the product of habitual holding or other patterns. This is true. So a sense of alignment must support the body rather than surrender completely to potentially depleting patterns. The key, I think, is to really and truly find the Sthira & Sukha in the shapes. Let them support you as you create them. Structure & softness. Effort & ease. Engagement & effortlessness. Get to know your habitual holding patterns and habitual flopping patterns (flopping= places where we just fall into shapes because of hypermobility or absence of tone). Engage enough to support, but no more. We’ll talk more about that in coming weeks.

Some related posts you might be interested in reading:

4 thoughts on “Fortifying// Letting the Shapes Support You

  1. Kelly that is such a great article. The ol over efforting and pushing through is something I can certainly relate to. With your guidance, mentorship, I feel my practice and way of relating turning itself on its head. Ah Headstand! I see a theme emerging… ha xx

  2. Yes yes yes yes! As a teacher of mostly beginners it can be difficult to convince my students that they don’t need to look like the magazine models to reap benefits of yoga. This is a wonderful way to look at the personal investigative side of the asana, and from their, building on personal trust and honor of our bodies. THANK YOU!

    1. Hi Penny,
      I’m so glad to hear that this post resonated. Thank you for writing. It is a real balancing act–maintaining a level of safety without creating an atmosphere of obsession, isn’t it?
      Much love.
      K

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