Monday, June 13, 2011

My Best Yoga Lesson: "Stop"

I know it sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but the best lesson I've ever learned practicing yoga was to just "stop".

It was about five years ago, I had been practicing yoga for two years and was still on my "I WILL BE GUMBY OR DIE TRYING" kick. Ashtanga or any sort of power Vinyasa based yoga was my only style and my goal was to achieve asana perfection every single time.

I was attending a yoga studio in St John, New Brunswick (did my final SLP placement there, met Andrew... all around good times!) and was a little off-put by the owner's "yoga mom" type personality. I should say, how HE catered to the yoga mom's out there, flirting, flexing his muscles and ignoring little old non yoga-mom moi. Even though I was determined to hate his class (and well hey, I never went back did I?), he did teach me one very important thing- just to let go.

During a seated forward fold he came over and started commanding that I back off, back up and stop trying so hard. To allow the asana to become the Journey instead of the destination (he didn't say exactly that, but that's my interpretation). I will admit, forward folds have forever been difficult, even after seven years of practice I barely grab my toes. I used to work SO HARD just to be able to fold, bend, push, hold on as much as possible in the first breath. Very one breath-one asana type feel.

Instead of practicing safely, the one-breath per "asana is a destination" type practice can be scarily dangerous. Popping in and out of a posture can push our muscles beyond what they should achieve, resulting in overstretching or even pulling and tearing of muscle tissue.

 (pre-yoga class a few years ago out at Hubbard's studio)

After that yoga class, combined with a few other insights over the years, I take most asanas one breath at a time. This means that I don't even try for "my" full version of the posture on the first breath, ever. I'll stop before I go as far as I think I can, take a breath allowing my body to settle and accept that my body will gradually make it there. From downward dog, cobra, upward dog... you name it.

It allows me to practice more mindfully and safely.

A few thoughts to consider:
  • With every inhale lengthen your spine, moving outward and upward
  • With every exhale relax, let go into the posture- one millimetre more. 

What is the most important yoga lesson you've ever learned?


article and photograph copyright of EcoYogini at


  1. Ahh, yes...a wonderful lesson! Something hard but vitally important to remember during practice!

  2. i love this, and i love that you were brave and admitted your struggles in your practice. i have never been able to do a basic twist with my elbow totally over my knee no matter how bendy i can get in other areas. and reminding ourselves to 'stop' and just focus on your own progress, even in baby steps, is such a good reminder - it's a personal journey.

  3. I absolutely love this and a great lesson to share! I try to remind my students of this on a regular experience the pose, not force their way into it. It's amazing how once you start to let go of trying so hard, things just fall into place. Thanks for sharing!

  4. "Stop" is indeed a four-letter word, but sometimes it feels good to use it anyway. It works on the mat and lots of other places, too. Thank you for sharing what may be a good intent/mantra to pull out every now and then.

  5. When I started doing yoga, it has opened so many things for me. Physically, emotionally and mentally. I started collecting these nice sculptures on yoga poses and my preschooler loves to look at them and follow the poses as much as she can :) very cute!

  6. So much truth in that one word! Unfortunatelly most teachers don't respect that while pushing you deeper into a position your body is not ready for... and then tell them, as no-teacher, that this is not right...


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