Your New Favorite!
You’ll hear us teachers saying that to you before and during most Hot 26 classes. It is good advice – and listening to your body during class is the best way to determine when to push yourself and when that’s really not what your body needs.
There’s also listening to your body before and after class. When something hurts, we usually listen – and that’s often because we weren’t listening before! Our body has to get our attention with pain – and it usually works. But when there isn’t pain, we tend to not even think about our bodies. I know I take mine for granted most of the time – just assuming that I’m going to be able to do all the stuff I want to when I want to. Then I do something I shouldn’t have and my body has to remind me to take better care of it.
In the Hot 26 practice, we have 26 postures and two breathing exercises. After practicing for a while and becoming more familiar with the postures, we decide we prefer to do some postures over others and they become our favorites. It’s not unique to yoga, we develop favorites with most everything we do repeatedly. We have favorite songs, favorite chairs, favorite foods, favorite everything! But we don’t often think about why they are our favorites. With a chair it’s usually pretty obvious – it’s the most comfortable. But with a song it could be many things – the things it reminds us of, the way it makes us feel, perhaps the way it helps us dream about the future.
A favorite yoga posture can be a favorite for many reasons. It usually has to do with a result that we see immediately. We often pick postures based on how well we can do them – it makes us feel good because we can regularly count on being able to do that particular posture with relative competency when we are in class.
A posture can also become a favorite because of the way it makes us feel during the posture. Many people love hands-to-feet pose—that first deep forward bend after half moon pose can feel so good because it helps stretch out the back and is generally the first deep forward bend of one’s day. Ahhh.
Perhaps you have a favorite because of the way it makes you feel immediately after the posture. A posture many people have in this category is fixed firm pose – the first posture after the spine strengthening series – when you sit down on your heels, separate your heels and then work on sinking your hips to the mat (eventually for some going all the way back). This can be uncomfortable when you’re in it but as soon as you lie down in savasana there’s usually a big “ahhh” feeling as you release all that tension and blood flows back to your lower legs. Immediate gratification is often the reason we categorize a posture as a favorite.
If you take that “listening to your body” further, you may find you develop favorite postures for the way they make you feel a day or so later. For me, this type of favorite posture is locust pose – part of the spine strengthening series - where you are on your belly, sliding your straight arms underneath you, and lifting your legs separately and then together off the floor. I do NOT like it during the posture. I remember taking my first Hot 26 class and thinking “are you crazy, you want me to do what!?” I’m breathing hard, my whole face is pressed into the mat (making breathing even harder) and usually it seems like the posture will never end. In fact as I write this, I realize I normally have that same reaction during class even now.
In class, we instructors are usually talking about the benefits to your spine, and especially your cervical spine during this particular posture. And those benefits are huge and well worth the extreme effort (and sometimes discomfort) of that posture. But the biggest “after” benefit for me is the work it does on my elbows. I don’t have a formal diagnosis but it’s either arthritis or “mouse elbow” that can flare up for me – pain in the elbows probably due to a lifetime of typing and “mouse-ing” and, in more recent years, using a smart phone. All those tiny, repeated motor skill movements can do a number on fingers, wrists, and elbows.
During locust pose, we put pressure on our arms as we lift each leg up separately and then both legs together. That compression blocks off the blood flow to your lower arms during the posture and as you release the posture, blood flows back in, flushing out the joints – and for me relieving and preventing the pain that can flare up in my elbows. As long as I do locust pose several times a week, I’m good to go. If I take a week off – perhaps when traveling for work or vacation – I know it. My elbows hurt. So I make sure I do locust pose several times a week – often just on the living room floor in whatever clothes I happen to have on. I may not do any other posture – but just 30 seconds of locust means I don’t even have to think about elbow pain.
All of the postures do wonderful things – far more than we can usually tell you about during class. It’s all good stuff. But I’ll bet there are one or for you that really “hit the spot” just like locust pose does for me. If you don’t know what they are, think about it. Before your next class, really listen to your body—pay attention to the parts that perhaps just don’t feel right, maybe even write them down. During class, focus on listening to your body respond to the postures – particularly to parts of your body we teachers don’t specifically mention during a posture. Then after class, later that day (and even the next day!) continue to listen. See what parts of your body feel differently than before class – look at the list you made before class. It may take a while. I know I didn’t figure out the magic about locust pose for over six months. I knew my elbows were feeling better, but didn’t really think about why. I knew it had to be the Hot 26 postures – because adding them to my life coincided with the happy elbows. But I sure didn’t think it was that crazy posture I really didn’t like. But then one day as I was doing a better job of listening to my body, I figured it out.
Give it a try! See if you can find a magic posture by listening to your body before, during, and after class. You may be surprised by the posture that is creating the magic for you. And when you find it, do that posture often, perhaps even every day. What may have been a trouble spot for you in the past may just disappear. I still don’t much like locust posture when I’m struggling to maintain it, but it sure is magic afterwards.
Jen took her first yoga class at a London YMCA in 1984 – and loved it. That was over 30 years ago and she’s been practicing ever since. A long distance runner and triathlete, Jen credits yoga with keeping her body healthy and injury free. Yoga was the calming influence in her life when running her own business and raising 3 children.
Jen has her 200 hour teaching certification and enjoys sharing her love of hot yoga with her students. She believes incorporating yoga into every day is key – postures, breathing or meditation – just take a little time for yoga every day to reap timeless rewards. Jen loves the outdoors - hiking, biking, camping, traveling – always taking her yoga with her.