I'm not too worried about how yoga poses look. I'm interested in how they feel.
During a yoga class some years ago, I was practicing a warrior pose and experimenting with how different it felt to shift my weight from the inside of my foot to the outside. Suddenly I noticed the teacher by my side. She looked me up and down for a moment and then asked me to, “Suck in your stomach.”
Even though she couldn’t see it, my core was active. But in an attempt to be a “good” yoga student, I tried my best to visibly comply, sucking in my stomach until I could only breathe shallowly into my chest.
As soon as my breath shrank, my enjoyment and experimentation in the pose started to shrink, too. It didn’t feel like curious connection with my body anymore. I was too focused on posing for the perfect yoga picture. At least until she walked away!
Even though her wording wasn’t helpful, I’m sure that teacher meant well. After all, there are so many reasons that using our stomach muscles in yoga poses serves us. Engaging our bellies can protect our backs, our joints, and our balance.
But when we try to mold our stomachs (or any other part of us) into the “perfect”-looking pose, sometimes our awareness of our bodies shifts from curious to controlling.
Lifting up through your core, rather than just sucking the stomach in, can create space through the entire upper body so that we can have enough softness to take full, deep breaths.
I explain this a bit more in this warrior 2 pose tutorial.
But at the end of the day, we can’t forget that yoga is about more than our bodies. It’s a practice of thoughtful connection with the here and now. When we focus on performing and posing, it’s hard to objectively connect with how we’re feeling and stay rooted in the present moment.
Next time you’re practicing a yoga pose, play with letting go of how your pose might look and instead focus on making space for breath and curiosity.
When you don’t feel pressured to practice a “picture-perfect" pose, what can you notice about how the pose feels?
Join me for my beginners' online Yoga Basics program starting on June 1 and ending whenever you like. I built it with my friend Jen at Grow Well to introduce yoga in a friendly, body positive way. Join us for just $39.
On Sunday, June 5 I'm teaching yoga at Lazy Turtle Farm in Hillsborough, NC. Hang out with goats, chickens, and wander the gardens. Sign up here for a relaxing, gentle practice.