Every now and then, when I’m completely in my teaching zone a cue will just pour out of me that changes the shape of my teaching moving forward. This happened a few weeks ago while moving through a Yin based practice. Sinking not pulling. I’ve used tons of different cues over the years to describe this feeling from melting, finding ease and softening as we move into deeper stretches. Yet something was a little more profound in using this line. Perhaps the anchor point of its antonym, perhaps the total surrender of the word sink – to let go entirely, to remove the control.
When we move through strength-based postures in Yoga, we must always be negotiating this tipping point between strength and softness. The ability to create an inner stability by boosting our bandhas, while keeping our outside edges relaxed. However, when it comes to postures designed primarily to create mobility and space such as forward folds – being my primary example, something very special starts to happen. Not just in the belly of the hamstring where the majority of the sensation is experienced but all throughout the body, and then the mind, and then a softening begins to spread through our entire inner body. If the soul had a physical sensation, this is the closest I know on how to feel it.
As we come into any stretch, check in first with our hands. Are they gripping or relaxed? Do they even need to hang on? Is the intensity of the pose being experienced in areas that are unrelated to the muscles being stretched, such as our jaw or between our eyes? In the case of a forward fold, notice what happens when your hands pull you into the stretch, rather than leaving them at your sides so you can literally sink with gravity. Using the test of time to allow the muscle fibers to quiet and feel safe.
Think about going in for a massage. When the massage is too intense what happens? We tense back. Our body literally goes into fight or flight mode whether we are aware of it or not. We hold our breath and try to push through the pain. The next day, rather than feeling relaxed we are sore and sometimes in more pain than we started. This is essentially what we are doing to ourselves when we are yanking and pulling and pushing ourselves into a pose (any pose) let alone the injury we are causing. Rather than allowing our nervous system to passively relax into rest and digest, we are keeping ourselves amped up. This further impacts our ability to enjoy a quiet savasana or final relaxation without our mind and body still feeling jumpy.
So, check in with yourself the next time you are in a pose meant to stimulate relaxation. Are you helping or hindering this process? Watch the tension in the hands and faces of your students. Yoga asana in so many ways imitates life. I think of the Beatles song, “Let it Be” perhaps even inspired by the Niyama (personal code of ethics) of acceptance. There is a time to push and fight absolutely – but trust me, forward fold is not it. Physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, you will experience far more benefit in all of your stretches by going with gravity. Sinking not pulling.