Whether we stop and think about it or not, we are transitioning constantly in our lives. We transition between jobs, relationships, homes, diets, exercise routines, levels of wellness and happiness, years in our lives, seasons, no babies to a few… the list is endless! It could even be something as simple as the transition from sleep to awake (we all love that one!). Sometimes these shifts bring about emotions ranging from just a little ping of excitement to a deep-rooted fear. And sometimes we don’t even have the time in our constantly flowing lives to stop and think about the changes. But what can happen when we do stop and think about these transitions? That mindfulness makes room for grace.
Is grace one of the last words you’d use to describe your yoga practice? You are not alone. Even seasoned yogis have days where their balance may be off or their mind just won’t stop. Newer yogis are still building their muscular memory and strength and getting used to proper alignment to stay safe, not to mention practicing new ways of breathing. I invite you to think of grace as a very personal thing, rather than a perfect form to attain. Think of grace as a feeling you get when you move from one pose to another and a feeling you get when you move from summer to fall.
Transitions in yoga can mean moving from one pose to the next (upward facing dog to downward facing dog) or simply dialing your right hip back and your left hip forward in pyramid pose. But, if these transitions just happen without any mindfulness, great chances for growth can be missed or even injury can occur. Moving quickly between poses may mean that we’re letting momentum carry us. That’s how teetering off a block in half moon or over-extending our back in camel can create injury. What if, say, we engaged our core, focused on our ujjayi breath, set our drishti and moved fluidly, with a set intention? And then what if we recognized the precious space that exists between our transitions and used our breath and focus to refine our pose even further by pushing out through the heel to engage our quads and glutes, stacking our hips and shoulders, reaching our top fingers to the sky, and, maybe, just maybe, lifting our bottom hand off of our block. Welcome to your most graceful half moon ever!
But what happens other than just physical? One of the biggest challenges in yoga is getting your mind to quiet long enough to pay attention to your physical body and, most importantly, your breath. For it is in the attention to your breath and the quiet spaces in your mind where yoga can truly transform.
Here are a few tips to help cultivate more mindful and graceful transitions in your yoga practice:
- Use a drishti, or focused gaze, to help quiet the mind and allow for deeper concentration. For example, in Warrior II, gaze over your longest finger and feel how that helps cultivate concentration.
- Try Ujjayi Breath – breath in through your nose then exhale slowly out your nose, keeping your mouth closed. As you exhale, bring a slight constriction to the back of your throat, making a “HA” sound as if you were fogging up a mirror, only with a closed mouth.
- Listen to alignment cues and think about stacking your joints (i.e. wrists, elbows, shoulder in high plank). This will make poses a bit easier and allow for more focus on breath.
- Begin practicing one breath per posture, depending on the flow of your class or practice. This can be tricky at first, but helps create that fluidity, almost like a dance, once it becomes more natural.
While transitions on and off our yoga mat can be challenging, finding ways to bring grace into these changes is what living is all about.
Emily is a physical therapist and certified yoga teacher at Jade Integrated Health