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When you’ve been holding Plank for 45 seconds or making your first attempt to fly in Bakasana (Crow or Crane Pose), you might be thinking, “This is taking everything I have in me.”  In that moment, that may be true.  But, as your practice continues and you keep trying to master new poses, the definition of what’s possible changes.  You discover how to hold balances, where your body needs to go in arm balances, and how to relax into deep stretches.  Every time you come to the mat, you have the opportunity to play.  Think of your body as a tool kit.  Explore it.  Take out each layer and look around for the tools to bring to each asana.  Build the confidence to let you body fill the poses as only you can.

The first step to understanding your body’s full array of tools is to try to shift your understanding from “what” to “why.”  For example, you might look forward to the stretch in Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend).  Next time you are in that pose, let your attention wander from your head to your feet, feeling where you hold tension that the position releases.  Why does it feel good?  Is the weight of your torso allowing gravity to elongate your hamstrings?  Is your neck softening after a day at the computer?

As you practice, think about how to engage the whole body and breath into every movement.  When you reach your arms up, follow them with your eyes.  Feel your fingers spread.  Notice the involvement of your shoulders and the lifting of your rib cage as you take a full breath.  In stretches, experience the security of grounding your whole foot, especially the sides and toes, and breath up and down the spine.  Allow the neck to stretch fully anytime the spine extends and let that length continue all the way to the crown of the head.  Integrating the body and breath brings not only a deepening of asanas but an intense new understanding of how to release into the movement.

Once you've done that, you might want to look at the metaphysical levels of the poses.  Does it help you feel grounded?  Or does letting your head sink below your heart feel like releasing the weight of responsibility?  At first, try the examination in poses that you don’t feel are challenging so that when you enter the more advanced asana, you can return your awareness to the purely physical plane.  As you become more comfortable with this self-examination, you can gradually apply it to more of your practice.

That process should help you get to the root of the “why.”  Now you can look at the “how.”  The complex interaction of every piece of your body — bones, muscles, nerves, organs — is set in motion with every pose.  You don’t have to limit this awareness to your practice.  Meditation can be an ideal time to let your focus hone in on the ways in which each part of your body impacts another.  And that realization can also help you past the frustration of being “stuck” in your practice.  Looking at all the tools your body offers can lead to you to see that you are much more able than you thought.


Featured Yogi: @robinmartinyoga 


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