By Shameem Akhtar
A suggestion can completely change your practice
It is an interesting detail you notice as an instructor – you may just suggest to the class that you will be increasing the pace of the sun salute. Though you actually do not rev up the tempo, the class will suddenly move very fast. Just using the cue word ‘speed’ does this to people. What this reveals is that a suggestion can completely change how you approach the practice.
The suggestive word could be ‘gentle’, ‘light’, ‘strong’, ‘dynamic’’ ‘calming’, ‘cooling’, ‘meditative’ ‘ soothing’, ‘relaxing’, ‘fun’ or ‘playful’. If you start the practice suggesting to yourself that you will be any one of the above words, you realise that your experience on the mat was precisely that.
Again, paradoxically, you can have a fast-paced practice that is gentle – try it. When you move fast but land lightly, that is gentle! Similarly, a slow-paced practice can be dynamic if your mind is constantly engaged in keeping the pose perfect, which invites the yogic oxymoron – still-dynamism.
Using the cue word while holding a pose is a powerful way to invite that attitude into your practice. Even though a chest-opening pose is actually warming, if you use the word ‘cool’, you will find that your body makes subtle shifts. You actually get that feeling into what is otherwise a warming practice. The shoulders will drop back gently, the face will relax its efforts, the forehead will stop creasing, the stomach’s pressure will increase to ground you and connect you to the earth – subtle cooling shifts. Alternatively, if you are feeling negative, you deliberately encourage the mind to create a practice that is the exact opposite of how you feel. For example, if you are depressed you decide that your yoga practice is playful. If angry, you decide your practice is cooling; if weak, the practice is strong; if strong, the practice is gentle. You can choose your opposites, or traits you wish to acquire, and use your practice to create them. Because the mind manipulates the body to adopt this attitude, it becomes part of a subconscious memory, a powerful reservoir, into which you dip when the need arises. This approach to yoga can be life-transforming. Since the mind is, for the duration of the practice, fixated on this trait, it becomes internalised.
The preparatory poses for the classic ones lend themselves to such suggestions as made above because their core function is to open up blocked energy channels in preparation. Therefore, they work well in tandem with emotional suggestions, which also have similar function.
Ardha ushtrasana (Half-camel pose) Sit on your heels. Pass hands behind. Inhale. Lift up the hips high, dropping neck behind simultaneously. Hold the pose. Ensuring hips remain up and chest is open, take five breaths. Release and repeat thrice. Later hold for just once, but for longer.
Avoid if having vertigo or neck pain.
Benefits: Tones the lower back and hip region. Therapeutic in asthma and weight loss.
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