I get asked this question all the time. It’s a great question. I love that folks are connecting to the practice and to themselves to have questions – that is the purpose of the practice of yoga – self-inquiry.
How do I answer this question? When I was a newer teacher I would answer based on where I felt the pose. Then I noticed over time that my body was often different than the bodies of my students, so they were feeling something different than I was.
When I dove deeper into the question, I came to see that all of us are different. We may all be humans with skeletons and muscles, however these are all unique to each practitioner. Your musculo-skeletal system will likely have different ranges of motion (this means how you body moves at its joints: spine, shoulders, elbows, wrists, hips, knees, ankles) than someone else… and by that I mean everyone else!
So where should you feel the pose? The pattern that emerged is that people will feel a pose where their muscles and tissues are tightest. So if you carry or have tension in your low back, most poses will be felt in the low back. If you carry your tension in your shoulders and neck, then you will likely feel the pose there first. If you have tightness in the soles of your feet, then every pose becomes a foot pose.
Is that where you should feel the pose? I don’t think shoulds play into this. I believe that we are better served by using yoga as a reality check than another should in our lives. Most of us have enough shoulds, and not always enough reality. If we cultivate curiosity over rigidity in the practice, we will be better served in the long run.
Over years of practice and teaching I’ve had the pleasure of learning that the yoga poses are a brilliant, dynamic, evolving set of movements and musculo-skeletal configurations that allow us to realize many things about our body, breath, emotions, mind, and heart. Why limit that to a specific and rigid “you should feel it in this one place” approach?
That said, there is a place where I am more firm – and that’s pain. Yoga is not meant to create pain in your body. If you are asking “where should I feel this?” because what you are feeling is pain, then move out of the pose mindfully and connect with your teacher for more information. If as you practice your pain threshold goes up, that is a definite “should NOT” in my books.
When my students ask me “where should I feel this pose?”, I answer their question with another question “Where do you feel it?”. When they tell me, I ask “Do you carry any tension there?” and 99% of the time they answer “yes”. I share with them that as they work through that layer of tension, then they might feel the pose somewhere else – their next tightest place. And so on, and so on, until they have found a way to work through all their tensions (this might take multiple lifetimes)… Then they will feel something else entirely!
As you move into your practice this week, notice where you feel the poses. When you feel something, ask yourself “What am I feeling here? And does this make sense for me?”. Notice how over time what you feel and where you feel it shift and change.
Let me know how this goes by leaving me a comment below. Enjoy!