Pay Attention to The Journey: Mindful Transitions in Yoga

Originally written by Zara M on 13  February 2014

If you don’t pay attention to the journey, how will you ever know how you got to your destination? What if you end up in the wrong place? Making the journey again would be pointless because you could just end up back in the same wrong place! I am of course, not talking about your journey to work or any other physical journey in life, although these could also apply; what I am referring to is the mental awareness of what it takes to get you from one place to the place you want to be; more specifically, the importance of making mindful transitions in yoga, and while we are at it, let’s also apply the theory and practice to dancing Tango.

Why doesn’t she just say that then? I hear you think, instead of waffling on in metaphor about “journeys”? If I began this article by jumping straight to the point, and if I basically told you what the essential message of this blog piece is before sharing my creative thought process, then perhaps your mind would just glaze over. The information would go in one ear and out the other, because when you arrive at a destination without enjoying the journey, suddenly the journey has no relevance to you because you didn’t mindfully experience it yourself.

Is this a mistake you repeat in your life, your yoga practice and your Tango dancing? Or do you have the patience, and take the time to enjoy the process, the learning, discovery and the journey as a whole? If you do, you are much more likely to gain a deep sense of satisfaction, not only in the activities you pursue; whether it is preparing dinner in the evening, pushing personal boundaries with a certain yoga pose, or perfecting that Tango move you want to lead or follow; but also in your personal existence and life as a whole.

Last weekend the focus of our Yoga4Tango class was all about mindful transitions. It was about aligning the body properly first before using muscle energy to transition into each pose, and then transforming this muscle energy into more sustainable organic energy by allowing our bodies to surrender to gravity and move deeper into each pose. We practiced the process several times using the Sun Salute sequence; flowing through the whole sequence with smooth, mindful and flowing transitions, and then holding each pose for five breaths, which allows us to consciously re-evaluate and analyze how our bodies feel in each pose, so that we can make adjustments in order to make the end results feel even better. Yoga is all about feeling good, after all.

I can forget the fact that yoga and Tango is about feeling good when I am not feeling properly grounded, and my body and mind are not connected at the beginning. If I don’t prepare both my body and my mind by arriving in the space on a mental and physical level before any action takes place, which means focusing on the present moment and letting everything else go, then I have already missed the first vital phase of the journey. Before any journey you take in life, you must prepare for it. If I do not take the time to align my body properly whilst I am transitioning in and out of yoga poses or practicing steps with a Tango partner, then I just end up feeling irritable because my body feels wonky, unbalanced and inflexible, and the whole experience becomes a struggle, because essentially my mind and body are not united; they are in resistance. It is like going on a physical journey somewhere but not really wanting to, so there is a reluctance that makes the whole journey unpleasant, and the destination becomes pointless!

Okay, I think I have talked enough in metaphor now, so let me tell you about my own journey in the yoga class last Sunday. I found most of the class a pleasure because I arrived with the conscious aim of wanting to improve on the previous week. I knew that my focus in the previous week had not been firmly situated in the here and now, and so I was not able to get the most out of the session; I had felt restless and my mind would not sit still. But the main thing is that I was aware of my shortcomings and so I was able the following weekend to approach the session differently, and address those issues to have a much more pleasurable experience. I thoroughly enjoyed the Sun Salute sequences, and I even took more pleasure than usual in holding the poses I often find more difficult, because I was mindfully moving into those poses and thinking consciously about where the tension was and what I could do to relieve it. It’s a rather lovely feeling when you independently figure out why you are struggling with certain poses; and then when you make the adjustments needed you feel your body accept the pose and that is when you really enjoy it.

My pleasurable experience of the class did not last the whole way through though. Perhaps this was because I knew that something was coming that I have a problem with, and I can’t figure out why yet. That something is called ‘The Pigeon Pose”. It is supposed to be a sort of resting pose that opens up the hips. We have started to do it at the end of the session. The body has been properly warmed up for the pose by this point. I don’t like the pose at all though. I feel uncomfortable in it; lop-sided, and misaligned like I am going to either topple over onto one side. I can’t relax into the pose or ‘surrender to gravity’ either, because most of my energy to focused on ‘holding’ my body in the position, so I am feeling tense when I know I shouldn’t be. Basically I am waiting for it to be over. There must be something I am doing wrong. Maybe it is something to do with how I am setting my body up in the position to begin with. Maybe I will ask for some extra help with it next week. I will let you know how I go.

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