When I began practicing yoga consistently back in 2007 I approached my practice like the true red head I am. I brought my piss & vinegar along with my tendency to push too hard in all the wrong ways. When my yoga teacher would tell me to squeeze my shoulder blades toward each other then by god I squeezed. When she asked me to tuck my tailbone, down it went, with vigor. However when she asked me to stay in Warrior II for what seemed like endless breaths I rebelled. That pose immediately put me into a panic, thighs shaking and burning, and left me feeling out of control. Nope, definitely coming out of that one!
It took me a couple of years to begin to develop a real and personal relationship with the yoga poses I practiced. It took me even longer to find what I like to call the Sweet Spot. This is a place where your body and the pose intersect in a healing way and actually create a sensation of opening, of warm honey pouring through, or a sense of exhilaration or enlivening. I’m happy to announce that this is becoming much more frequent in my own practice and something I’m beginning to teach my students.
Sounds good, right? I mean some people might prefer to feel burning pain, but not me, not anymore at least. I want to feel like I’m going to melt open while working my ass off.
Finding your Sweet Spot requires an open mind and a willingness to experiment. If this sounds like something you can do, read on for some tips.
Tip #1: Feel your yoga poses.
This may sound somewhat strange, but it’s amazing how many yoga practitioners don’t really feel what’s going on in their bodies in their yoga practice. I think this happens for a few reasons. Most of the time, culturally, we aren’t taught to pay attention to our bodies except when we are in pain. Another big factor is thinking a yoga pose is supposed to be a certain way. Part of this comes from the learning process. As we learn a pose like, say, Warrior II, we learn basic alignment cues and a proper approach to the pose. This is important. But to some degree this needs to change. How far we tuck our tailbone depends on the health and shape of our spine. How we hold our arms depends on the health and dis-ease of our shoulders. Just because a classic Warrior II pose looks like this…
…doesn’t mean we always need to practice it like that. In fact for those of us that carry a lot of stress and tension in the shoulders it might help to release our arms entirely or hold them up, palms facing up in a gesture of receptivity. See where I’m going here? Learning a yoga pose does require you to learn technical information, then your body provides feedback. Pay attention to that feedback, modify with the help of your teacher, and enjoy the results of a yoga practice that actually benefits you.
Tip #2: Work hard, but not too hard
From my many years of pushing too hard in unhealthy ways I had to learn to back off, soften, and deepen my breath. And then, sometimes, I had to learn to go deeper. I journeyed into that thigh shaking burn of Warrior II and broke through to the honey on the other side of my struggle. This is where an experimental mind comes in. Think of your yoga practice as a constant experiment in presence. What your body needs one day, it may not need on another. Sometimes pressing hard and then backing off helps you find the sweet spot. Sometimes going light is the key.
As Americans many of us want a definitive answer that works 100% of the time. The only thing that works most of the time in my opinion is awareness. If you are in the moment and paying attention you will do “the right thing”,whatever that is for you. Trusting yourself is key. As is knowing when you need help. All of these are skills you can develop through your yoga practice and all of them help lead you to discovering your own personal sweet spot.
Any yoga practitioners out there know what I’m talking about? How about you dancers or athletes? Have you experienced a sweet spot? Leave your comments below!