#1 WAY TO FIRE UP YOUR PRACTICE
The longer you spend with your yoga practice, the more subtle it becomes. As you grow, the basic shapes — your foundation, pose expression and the breath — begin to feel more natural, and you're offered room to expose deeper layers. Sometimes those pieces will be your internal experience, whether mental obstacles, emotions that arise or something new. It might also be a physical change, the way your front hip cuts back in trikonasana (triangle), a new method to hold your ribcage or how to use your core to support you in ardha chandrasana (half moon).
The ways to expand your practice are limitless. I'll give you one. I'll give you my favorite. Have I buried the lede enough? It's pretty simple. Keep your joints bent.
IT'S HEALTHY FOR YOUR JOINTS
Prior to yoga, I came from movement disciplines where form is valued more than function. It was my inclination to keep the knees locked, extend the elbows and bend as much as possible into the wrists. The more sensation, the better, right? Nah, maybe not.
When your knees are locked and you feel sensation behind them, you're feeling the tendons stretch. It's not a good thing. I use the analogy in class that the tendons are made like jeans (the heavy, sturdy kind) and the muscles like stretchy yoga pants. Your old pair of Levi's just aren't made to stretch (unless they've got some spandex in them — and thanks for that, fashion designers). They might split if you're not careful. Tendons are made to connect muscle to bone, and we've gotta protect it.
STRENGTHEN WHILE YOU LENGTHEN
That takes us to reason number two. When you're not depending on your elbows to support you in high plank, guess where all that arm-work is going? That's right, your biceps, triceps and forearms. Use all that strength to open up further across the upper back.
The same thing is true when you're taking a forward fold with a softness in the backs of the knees. You can get a deeper stretch in the hamstrings while you fire up the quads.
IT'LL CHANGE HOW YOU MOVE IN THE WORLD
My favorite element of yoga is how changes unfold when you're off the mat. It was through my practice that I could finally give up the need to lock my knees, and as a result, they feel better. When I lift something from the ground, I'm bending my knees. When I'm walking, my knees are slightly bent, allowing my muscles to absorb the shock of the terrain.
I learned what was making my elbows feel all weird in vasisthasana (side plank) and camatkarasana (wild thing, flip dog). Just take that lock out — or in my case, a hyperextension — and you'll remember to bear weight in the muscles when carrying a box.
How has your practice changed over time?
P.S. I'm now teaching at 4:30pm on Tuesday nights at The Yoga Loft in Dublin! Join me for a flow. Your first class is free until July 1.