The Evolution of a Yoga Posture

by K. Kris Loomis in Yoga

dinosaur-60588_1280When I first started practicing yoga I often said, “I can’t do that!” Now, after almost twenty years of practicing, studying, and teaching yoga, I say, “I can’t do that. YET.” Why the “yet” at the end? Because I believe in evolution.

Apart from the Darwinian meaning of the word “evolution,” Merriam-Webster defines evolution as “a process of slow change and development.” The Free Dictionary says evolution is “a gradual process in which something changes into a different and usually more complex form.” Slow change. A gradual process. You get the picture.

I have experienced two main types of yoga evolution in my own personal practice and in my teaching. The first is is the slow change I experience while in a posture during one practice session.  The other is the gradual transformation of a posture over an extended period of time.

Evolution in one class

Yoga, like most worthwhile endeavors, is a skill-based practice. Progress is naturally built into the process if you stay the course. I’ll use Adho Mukha Svanasana, or Downward Facing Dog, as an example.

Let’s say that Sue goes to a yoga class one day. The teacher eventually guides the class into Downdog. Sue gets herself into position, but this is a hard one for her. She has a rounded back and her wrists hurt in this posture every time. Her heels aren’t anywhere near the floor and she can’t straighten her legs.

So the teacher comes over and offers a few suggestions. She asks that Sue really spread her fingers far apart so that she can feel all four corners of her palms pressing down, especially the stubborn mound at the base of the index fingers. Maybe she could nudge her chest a little more in the direction of her toes to help take some pressure off of her wrists and bring awareness to her thoracic spine. She could also strengthen her thigh muscles more and press them toward the back of the room, encouraging her legs to shift back a little bit, even if they don’t totally straighten.

These are small tweaks to the posture, but the posture Sue ends with is different from the one she started with. Her posture has evolved over the course of one class.

Sue continues going to yoga class.

Evolution over time

Two years later, the teacher guides the class into Adho Mukha Svanasana. This time Sue’s palms are wide and flat on her mat. Her back is longer and her legs are almost straight. Her heels still don’t go down all the way down to the floor, but they are closer than they were in the earlier class mentioned above.

So, the teacher comes over and offers a few suggestions. Perhaps Sue could encourage her inner thighs to reach further back while gently nudging her sit-bones away from each other. Instead of just pressing her palms down, maybe she could also press them in a forward direction against her mat while she moves her tailbone in the direction of where the wall and the ceiling meet. Her outer hips could lift up while her heels continue to press down.

Again, based on where Sue started in the posture this time, these are relatively small tweaks. But they are very different adjustments from the ones two years ago because her posture has evolved over time. She has been diligent in her practice and has gained skills along the way. And if she keeps practicing, these skills will continue to multiply. In two more years, the suggestions Sue will receive from her teacher will be different still. This is how postures evolve. Slow change. A gradual process.

In my own life, I can’t do the full yoga peacock. YET. I can’t play the tricky third movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. YET. I can’t fold an origami dragon. YET. But I know that if I continue honing my skills these things are possible.

So instead of thinking that you can’t do something, realize that you just may not be able to do it YET. And know that when you are focused and diligent, YET gets here sooner than you think.

K. Kris Loomis is the author of the humorous travel memoir, Thirty Days In Quito: Two Gringos and a Three-Legged Cat Move to Ecuador. She also writes adult parables and short stories as well as books about yoga and meditation. Kris is a determined chess player, an origami enthusiast, a classically trained pianist, and a playwright. She lives in South Carolina with her husband and two cats.

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