Ladies and gentlemen. As you know, Arm Balances aren’t really my thing (bloody wrists), but I can, and occasionally do, get into one or two other fancy poses. The ones that my body is suited to. This is a guest post from Jenifer Parker of Healium (remember, that kick-ass plank tutorial?) on breaking down fancy poses into their components. I made a little info graphic to go with it – enjoy xx
We have all seen it. Pictures of fancy yoga postures. There’s the scorpion, the extreme handstanding routine by cute lady in underpants, and of course, whatever Madonna is doing these days.
And some of us go, “Ooh, so beautiful! I wish I could do that!” and others of us go, “You crazy! I’ll never be able to do that!” And no matter which side of the fence one is on about these pictures, everyone agrees “Yoga is not about the postures. It’s about the inward experience.”
And this is true. But if it’s only about that, then we really don’t need postures, so why the heck do we do postures in the first place; and in the second place, why do people end up doing fancy postures?
The number-one reason clients tell me they start doing yoga is that they want to feel good.
At the most basic level, they want the physical benefits of yoga — the strength, the flexibility, the ending of the back pain. These are perfectly admirable goals, and they are acceptable reasons to practice yoga.
In the beginning of our practice, we learn the basic forms with modifications adapted to our particular needs — modifications which balance out the strengths and weaknesses in our particular bodies.
Over time, our physical practice develops and we are able to let go of certain modifications, and move into different expressions of the postures until they start to look more “standardized” — they look more like the forms seen in books like such as Light on Yoga by Iyengar (my favorite).
So what is happening in this development? Our bodies are getting stronger, more flexible, more balanced. For most of us, there will be postures that will always be modified based on our special considerations and needs — such as a tricky hip — but even so, there will be areas where our bodies continue to desire to “go farther.”
And, so, we also have progressive postures.
When you look at a fancy posture, such as scorpion from a hand stand, you might just see a fancy arm-balancing back bend. But break it into components, and you’ll see a bit of a different picture.
There’s handstand, of course, which requires a lot of strength. For many people, this will come after crow pose becomes quite light, and headstand seems light and simple. For some people, this may never come, but I’ve found that most people find it somewhere within their fifth year of practice. Yes, even my favorite 72-year-old client, Louise. Well, she was 72 at the time she picked it up, having started practice at 67, and is still practicing today, at 83. She’s pretty rocking.
If you look at the thoracic spine in the pose, you actually see a similarity to upward-facing dog — it’s a deep movement in the shoulders that creates that thoracic articulation.
If the posture is done properly, and you look toward the legs, the rotation and how that supports the lumbar spine in its back bend is very similar to bridge pose and bow pose. Bridge pose and bow pose are what I call “sibling postures” — they are very similar in basic construction/makeup, but apply gravity in different ways. Just as my sister and I are from the same parents, but have different outlooks. In this instance, I’ll say closer to bow because of the feet in the air, and thus the gravitational pull on the body is more similar.
This creates the following equation:
hand stand + upward dog + bow pose = scorpion pose
(Nadine’s note: Handy inforgraphic for your viewing (and pinning) pleasure.)
You might look at that equation and go “I can do upward dog and bow!” and you might even notice that when you do those postures, they feel “at ease.” And if they do, then maybe, just maybe, you want to try something new so that there is a bit of right effort in the posture.
Or, you might say, my bow and handstand feel quality, so maybe if I work on my thoracic strength, it might be a good option for me.
Or, you might just decide that continuing to work what you know is exactly right.
After all, this is not about collecting postures. This is really about doing what your body wants or needs.
Now, that’s why we practice postures and how those postures become fancy postures over time. But what it doesn’t answer is the issue of mind-space — or the big picture of what yoga is and why we do it.
Ultimately, practicing yoga is for the deeper benefits of Self knowledge, awareness, and actualization. The postures help our bodies heal and stay healthy as well as create deep focus and deep observational skills that allow us to experience these things.
Any posture can do this, and you can spend a lifetime just working on one posture (I would suggest mountain pose or corpse pose if you were to just pick one). So, it doesn’t matter if you do easy postures, regular postures, modified postures, or fancy postures. The benefits are the same.
There’s no need to collect postures, or advance postures, or practice a lot of postures. In fact, it’s really only beneficial to practice those postures that are right for you, and that help you not only heal your body, but develop the deeper capacities of yoga that postures help to develop.
But then comes the question of judging.
I don’t mean the decent discernment, but the harsh judging that we do: A teacher who can’t do scorpion doesn’t really know/practice yoga. A teacher who does do scorpion is a shallow collector of yoga postures. A student who does scorpion is a show-off. A student who doesn’t do scorpion isn’t willing to dig deep and conquer their fears and really do yoga.
The truth is, we can never know what is inside another.
Most days — I don’t know about you — I have a hard enough time figuring out what’s going on inside of me.
But my practice helps. My yoga practice brings me all kinds of self knowledge. Sometimes, I practice basics. Other days, deeply modified poses (have I mentioned the kraken in my right hip?), and some days, even “advanced” postures because it’s the sort of thing my body calls for — to be really drawn to its furthest limits in those postures.
It has no more meaning than just being whatever is right now.
Be who you are in your practice.
And be okay with that being whatever it is today, right now. And, maybe, you’ll do advanced postures someday, or maybe you won’t, but at the end of the day, you’ll still be you, and a healthier, happier you, too!