When I talk about asana or "postures" in class, I like to remind students that postures are opportunities to collect information. It's not about forcing something that isn't there - it's about bringing yourself into a position and allowing the posture to reveal more subtle information that which is embedded beneath the surface. By doing so, you summon patience, discipline, self-compassion and breath as your key partners for navigating things that feel challenging. Not only is this a critical skill that can help you overcome tough or chaotic times outside your yoga studio - but you also stand to unpack some pretty interesting information about your body as well.
The thing is, your body has an innate intelligence. In Iyengar's Light on Life he talks about how every cell in your body, through a complex network of nerves, is connected to your brain. Therefore, every cell in your body has an intelligence. As you practice, you should continuously be scanning the sensation on the surface of your skin all the way to the marrow of your bones - gliding your awareness seamlessly across the layers of your being to identify areas that are calling out for support, release or attention.
In a recent training, my mentor Jacqui Bonwell, discussed how our bodies remember the physical positions we are in when we encounter stressful information or in a state of stress - and this physically impacts the tissue. She gave the example of being under duress while answering phone calls in a previous job that lead to severe pain that ran down the whole side of her neck on the side she used for phone calls. The funny thing was that this injury was ultimately healed by one, solid Reiki session - and not physical therapy or medicine (not knocking them - just interesting that we can tackle physical trauma from many angles).
The point of this is that yoga is trying to teach us to stop trying to force it, fix it or fidget our way through it - as none of these things can serve us as much as sitting still and allowing our breath and our focus to reveal what we need to know. As we hold position our breath will help us make space with each inhale and either soften or strengthen into that space with each exhale.
When you can allow your body and breathing to do the work, you are naturally training your mind in the more sophisticated art of being aware of everything that composes the position at a higher level. You notice nuances, small shifts, displaced areas where you thought things were happening - when, in reality, most of the information is coming from someplace else. (Some day we'll talk about "Systems Thinking" as it relates to yoga :)
Ultimately, if we can hone this sophisticated skill of allowing our breathing to impact the position we are in - we can become better not only at yoga - but in relationships and work and in all aspects of our lives. Notice the next time you encounter something that throws you off your game - something that might normally be "stressful" for you and ask yourself:
"Can my breathing impact the position I am in?"
Give it 10 breaths and then come back here and tell me about it - I'd love to do a follow up post!