1. Work from the ground up
When you’re in a pose try to scan through your body to make self-adjustments. Begin your mental observations of your pose with noticing what is in contact with the floor. Are you rooted? Can you make adjustments to the arches in the foot and the ankles? Do the feet feel like they are in the right position and your standing position is both steady and pleasant? From there move your awareness up to the hips, then the belly and spine, then the shoulders up to the top of the head.
2. Press-rebound principle
Applying force downwards will create an opposing force upwards. Think about how a ball bounces when you drop it. This is why you’ll sometimes hear the instruction to “root to rise”. Try this out in Vasisthasana / Side Plank, how does it feel if you push the floor away actively with your hand? Can you feel the lightness in the body as a result? Or in Handstand; when you actively press down through your hands your kick up to Handstand can then be much lighter.
3. Practise with awareness
When water flows down a hill it will always take the easiest route, going around anything in its path. This is the same in our bodies – we will bend first where we are softest. Practising without awareness can mean we overcompensate for our stiffer areas by overstretching our more flexible ones. For example, if your hamstrings are less flexible and you bend forward too far the spine will end up rounding, putting the discs at risk.
4. Dual actions
One of the ways we can help counter this overcompensation is by thinking of all of our actions as a having a dual or counter action. We can ask – what needs to happen in another part of my body for me to stay balanced? For example, in Tadasana / Mountain Pose, when we press the thigh bones back we must also do a dual action such as lengthening the buttocks away from the waist. If we only press the thighs back we risk overarching the lower back. If we only lengthen the buttocks away from the waist, we create a flat back. Both actions must be done to balance each other out.
I talk about this more in my class on the Neutral Spine from the Arm Balance Essentials Programme.
5. Movement versus Action
When we lift up an arm we engage major muscles and change the body’s position: we can call this movement. Movement changes the shape of a pose. If in Warrior II if we spread the toes and root our feet down, these are actions. An action brings a yoga pose to life. An action also brings the mind into the body, enabling you to become more aware and tuned into sensations.
6. Sthira and Sukha
Finding balance between our stability/strength and flexibility is one of the most important aspects of our practice. This applies to both our physical effort and our attitude. Change is not going to happen if we do not put work in, but too much effort beyond our edge can lead to injuries. Some amount of discipline can give us freedom such as a routine practice giving us space for inquiry. However, too much discipline can make us rigid and closed down to new experiences.
It is all about finding the right balance for ourselves. You can explore this in individual asanas. Take Virabhadrasana 2/ Warrior 2 for example – too much space between the feet can make us unsteady, whereas too much stability (the feet too close together) restricts the movement in the hips and stops you from expanding. With the right balance of stability and strength in the legs our upper body and arms are free to open and lengthen.
Read more about Sthira and Sukha this in Manda’s article, Finding the balance between effort and ease.
I hope these principles are helpful for you – let me know how you get on.