Beginnings and ends make us aware of change and time. Perhaps it’s the beginning of the new calendar year that has prompted me to focus on the tempo of my practice. If you’re looking for some ideas for your home practice, this could be it! In led classes, the tempo will be an average of what the teacher sets and what the whole group can do, but when you’re practising alone you’re free to choose your own timing – and this opens up some very juicy possibilities! Read on for some suggestions.
Slow motion or fast forward
Doing a sun salutation (surya namaskar) faster or slower than your usual pace will completely change the experience. Instead of “arriving” at the poses on the way, make it one continuous seamless movement, keeping your gaze awake to how the landscape changes with the orientation of your head. Pick up the speed to get your heart going or slow down to do away with the help of impulse. Allow the breath to flow as necessary if you want to go as sloooooow as you possibly can.
Pump up the base
You can hold the same asana using different muscles and the ones working will give you some very clear feedback if you stay in the asana long enough. You can get away with not engaging the deeper core muscles for a short while, but if you stay longer you will need their essential support for the rest of the body structure. This is a wake-up call for the locks (bandhas) and also an invitation for unnecessarily active muscles to relax.
Just like in cat-cow, where we synchronize the movement with the breath so that there is no pause or acceleration in either. Honestly follow the rhythm of the breath, let it lead, and pay attention so that every part of the body is in sync with it. Try coming into or out of every asana so that all body parts reach their position at the same time and together with the end of your inhalation or exhalation. A brilliant anchor for the attention.
Travel in time
It is easy to conceive “advanced” as a space issue – getting the head there, lifting up that much, going down that low… – because we are exposed to so many photographs of amazingly flexible yoga practitioners. What the photographs don’t say is how long the pose was held for. And duration is another way of advancing. You may find that you need to back off a little as sensations get more intense, or that the body eases into the position and you can go further. Even if everything stays the same physically, watch your patience and perseverance stretch. You can even use a timer instead of counting breaths to avoid count-down distraction.
Take time out
Have you ever come out of an asana as if out of deep meditation? I’ve only had this experience after holding seated forward bend (paschimottanasana) or bound angle pose (baddha konasana) for long times. Asanas work on our nervous and endocrin systems in ways which may be too subtle to perceive consciously if we fly through. Stay as comfortably back from your limit as necessary, use props if you need them, be the asana and forget about time.
PS: I’m back to teaching again after the Xmas break at K77 Studio, Mondays 18:15-19:45. If you’d like more details, get in touch with me here.