Transitions are uprooting in nature, often causing us to feel chaotic or lost. In a sequence of asanas when we move from posture to posture, it is easy to get caught up in attachment to the pose we are leaving or become anxious about what comes next.
Often our instinct is to run away, or to rush through, which is understandable. Transitions are hard! Accepting that discomfort as a completely natural state, frees us from the notion that everything is going to be easy all the time.
Sometimes life sucks and you have to be with it. When you find yourself in a difficult transition (on and off the mat) how do you stay rooted? We learn to treat transitions just as we would any other pose. And off the mat, we find ease in life’s difficulties by paying attention– even when we hurt and we want to run away.
When we notice our reactions to transitions in our asana practice, we can apply it to the way we react in real life. For example: I noticed that often I don’t exhale completely in chaturanga, which causes me to lose my breath.
With this knowledge I have learned to bring my knees down in my first few chaturangas so that I can stay for a full breath and be with the sensation in my upper body and belly.
This observation contains useful information. It tells me that when things are hard I tend to avoid feeling uncomfortable and often shortened or hold my breath which can lead to anxiety.
Often when I am under emotional stress from a life transition, I will react the same way. But, because I’ve made a conscious effort to be with the discomfort, I can draw my awareness to the sensation and maybe, just like in chaturanga, I can make things a little easier on myself so that I CAN breathe.
When I breathe and pay attention (even when it’s hard) there is less of a chance for injury and I get stronger!
Here is a short standing sequence of 8 common transition postures that most of us (yoga teachers included!) tend to rush through. I recommend staying for 5 breaths in each posture. When doing a practice like this I often like to journal anything that comes up for me. Whether you choose to write down your thoughts or not, ask yourself the following questions:
What does this posture physically feel like? Or in other words: What sensations am I currently experiencing in my body?
What is my mind doing? Am I clinging to the previous posture? Am I clinging to what is coming next?
Is there currently a predominant emotion that I am experiencing?
- Start in child’s pose.
- This is the ultimate “I will rush through this because it sucks” asana. Many of us are apprehensive to practice chatturanga on our knees because our ego likes to tell us we’re not good enough if we are not practicing the biggest expression of everything all the time.
- For this pose, I recommend using your knees, even if you are an experienced yogi. Notice what it feels like to stay in this pose we so often flow right though. Notice the strengthening in your arms and belly and the heat that you may produce. Notice if your breath becomes labored or you stop breathing.
- Another pose often offered in flow/vinyasa classes. Try to let go of attachment to a huge backbend here. What does it feel like to back off? Notice what is touching the earth. How is your breath?
Adho Mukha Savasana/Downward Facing Dog
- Good old down dog. I have included a very specific variation of downward dog. Let’s take the hamstrings out of the equation. Bend your knees and lift the pelvic floor. Wrap your triceps back towards your ribs.
- This is where we go when we’re getting ready to float forward to the front of our mat. Instead of floating forward, stay here! What does it feel like? Do your neck and low back feel lengthened? Do your arms and shoulders feel strong?
High plank and square plank
- Plank pose is often neglected and treated simply as a transition for chatturanga. What does it feel like to not only hold plank but to also “deconstruct” it? Bend your elbows and your knees simultaneously and allow your knees to hover above your mat 2-3 inches. Notice what comes up. Hold both variations for 5 breaths.
Knee to belly
- Another pose often viewed as simply transitional as we move from down dog into a lunge. Push the floor away and round in like cat pose. Notice where the breath wants to go.
- Pay extra attention to the feet. It’s easy to become uprooted here. Can you maintain a lift while pressing your feet into the floor? What are you anticipating?
- Really press your finger tips and feet into your mat. Notice the energy and strength that comes from this rooting action.
- This is a great exercise in rooting down while also expanding. With the arms lifted, inhale as you rise to the balls of your feet. Notice what comes up.
- Most of us will try to hold our breath. Can you be with the discomfort of instability? Can you allow it to simply happen? And then slowly lower the heels. Notice what it feels like to stand firmly on both feet.
- For many of us, stillness is the hardest practice of all. When you first arrive in this posture, notice what your mind is doing. Is it still clinging to your physical practice? Is it anticipating what comes after your practice? What does it feel like to draw yourself back to the momentary experience?
- If you find yourself starting to fidget here, take 5-10 more breaths and then begin to move. Even if you don’t stay for very long, the act of choosing to stay, even for a short while, is incredibly beneficial.
Remember that there is no special way that you need to “arrive” in order to practice yoga. The idea behind these practices is to be with what is– whether it’s intense joy or sorrow or anywhere in between.
Whether your practice is a two hour vinyasa practice or simply standing barefoot in your kitchen for one minute and watching your breath, it counts!
Be compassionate with yourself and allow whatever arises to be there. And remind yourself that everything is temporary!