When you’re practicing yoga independently at home – without a teacher, or a DVD, or audio guide – how do you determine when to come out of each pose?
One approach might be to count the breaths and try to stay for a certain number of inhales or exhales. Some people time their poses – certainly we do that in Yin Yoga, since we hold the poses for so long, but as I understand it, Iyengar practitioners are supposed to hold active poses for specific lengths of time.
In practicing this morning (and at times in the past), I found myself exploring this a bit organically. Without counting breaths or using a clock, I noticed the impulse to leave the pose often seems to come when either there’s a hint of fatigue or the pleasant sensations of the pose have faded. The body is capable of being there for longer, but the mind has shifted from a pleasant or neutral reaction to an unpleasant reaction in the pose. This is related to contemplating Vedana, or feeling tone, in meditation.
Try it: come into Warrior II Pose, and stay for a while. Work with your alignment, do what you would normally do in the pose. And then notice how it is you decide when it’s time to come out – is it a loss of interest, or a sense of discomfort? (To be uber clear, I’m not talking about risky, injurious pain or extreme fatigue – just the ordinary discomfort of muscles getting stronger). Is there a change in the breath? Is there a change in your attitude or level of engagement?
How about in a pose that you savor and enjoy? Is there a desire to linger? Is there a point where you check out because the sensation is not as delicious as it was at first?
Of course, the point is not to hold poses for unreasonable lengths of time, but to use them as opportunities to reflect on what’s driving our approach to each asana. The pose can be an opportunity to study the mind’s reactivity as we embody the shapes of the asanas. Then, we’re not just “posing,” we’re truly practicing mindfulness in action.