Challenges on the Mat

In yoga, we often face a difficult pose that we are afraid to try. It’s a pose that we just don’t feel capable of working with. We may think we don’t have the strength for it, or perhaps we are not flexible enough to move into that pose. And so, as the class moves into the pose, we back off and find the modification that has been our friend in that pose. “Ahhh, safety,” we think.

Of course, it is always important to be safe in our poses, working with our modifications where we need them. We bend the knees in our forward fold, because no one wants to pull a low back muscle or tear a hamstring! And yet, toward the end of class, as our muscles have stretched and lengthened, maybe there is some room to work toward a straighter leg. Maybe if we engage the belly button into the spine, we might find some room to lift the hips just a bit more, lengthening the back of the legs. And so we try it. And there it is! A little more straightening of the leg!

Some of my students doubted they were ready for the advanced yoga classes. After all, they argued, they were at an older age when coming to yoga the first time, or they had a lack of strength in some poses, perhaps not able to flex more deeply into other poses. But through circumstances, they found themselves encouraged to give the class a try, and upon doing so, they were challenged in new ways. And they found that there were many poses they COULD do well, and other poses they worked toward the challenge.

In yoga, we are asked to identify strength and stretch, as opposed to strain and pain. Our bodies can be challenged in strength and stretch, but we will pull or tear something in strain or pain. It is important to recognize the difference in these terms. If we are not feeling strain or pain in a particular pose, it is time to challenge it. Take it to the next level. Identify in ourselves a way to make the pose more difficult.

As the weather heats up, we notice our energy returning as well. Now is the perfect time to challenge ourselves on the mat. Just open up our poses a little more.

How will you challenge yourself on the mat, or off the mat, today?

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