We've all seen pictures of beautiful yoga or dance postures which emanate grace and suppleness. No doubt these postures may feel wonderful to these practitioners, but I would like to argue that we can all feel wonderful doing our own versions of these regardless of how they might look to the outside world. And by practicing this way, our body will change from the inside out to reflect our internal state of grace, suppleness, balance and strength.
Movement can have all sorts of focuses and intentions, exercise, freedom, fun or performance. Dance and yoga poses can be about making shapes for sure, but here I want to discuss finding internal feelings and approaching movement practices from what can be felt inside, rather than striving to achieve an end goal. Striving and pushing is the opposite of listening to your body and can lead to injury and exhaustion rather than a beneficial practice.
In this approach there is no goal, for example, a shape or performing a movement. This frees you to focus on what feels good within your body and not to strive for an outcome. For this to happen there needs to be a shift of focus from reaching for a goal and making a shape to feeling into how the movement feels.
So how can we shift our focus? This comes down to mindful practice, by being aware of how we feel when doing movement. Asking ourselves again and again to become present to what we are doing and holding that intention as we practice. Whether this is achievable to the same degree every day is irrelevant, the key is just to hold and practice with this intention. And what I love about yoga poses is that there are so many areas within each posture to enjoy different aspects of our being – strength, suppleness, balance, lightness, groundedness, etc.
I will illustrate this with an example of a yoga pose seated forward bend. Here's a wonderful illustration of the full expression of this asana:
Now, I know that due to tightness in my legs this expression of the pose is not currently comfortably achievable for me, and if I were to try to make this shape by pushing and pulling my body it wouldn't feel good at all. However, if I shift my focus to an internal attention of feeling length in my body, I will cultivate an internal feeling of gracefulness and length no matter what my outward expression of this pose. I know that this particular pose encourages length of the whole of the back of the body, from under the feet, through the legs right up through the spine and into the neck. Also, I want to create space in the front of the body, so that my organs are not compressed as the upper body comes towards my legs, getting a feeling of spaciousness here as well. So that is where my focus and intention will be and gradually my body begins to lengthen into a version of this shape.
However, what it looks like is not really the point. The point is, that the expression of the pose feels very nice for me because I have practiced asking, 'what does spaciousness and length feel like for me in this pose?' I come out of the pose feeling good. I feel lengthened, graceful and spacious even though my flexibility on most days doesn't allow me to fold any further. You will notice if you have practiced well because you will feel good. It really is a very simple notion. However, releasing the need to push and strive is what takes practice.
We are all different, so what feels like a good expression for you will not be exactly the same as what feels good for me as we are different people in different bodies. As you find your internal strength, length and gracefulness, this will gradually express itself outwardly in the pose, and perhaps one day it will take the full expression, however whether you achieve this shape or not will no longer matter as you have already found your internal gracefulness. This is why I encourage you to focus on 'feeling from within' your strength, balance, length, etc., rather than striving to achieve a shape.
For a practice you can do right now, take a look at my video on moving to feel good.