Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Holding The Pose

‘In order to lengthen a muscle in the long term, we must hold a position for a minimum of 30 seconds. In each bundle of muscles cells is a sensory nerve called the muscle spindle sensory nerve. Its function is to sense when a muscle is being stretched beyond its capacity. When the muscle spindle nerve senses danger, it sends a message to the spinal cord, which in turn sends a message through the muscle’s motor neurons to protect the muscle by shortening it. After 30 seconds, the muscle spindle nerve habituates to its new length and no longer sends a message of distress to the spinal cord. This allows the muscle to maintain its length.’ - Charlotte Bell

First of all, the human body never ceases to amaze me. It is so intelligent, resilient and awe inspiring. What goes on beneath our skin is more complex than any thought or action we may consciously partake in during the day. Second, like all things in yoga, this is such a perfect metaphor. Stay with the sensation. It may not be pleasant but if you stay with it, there will come resolution and acceptance. Pema Chodron often discusses this. When we have feelings that society has deemed as "bad" we often run away from them. We numb out (with drugs/alcohol), we distract ourselves with entertainment and we run away from our truth. By doing so we cause a myriad of issues and not only will the underlying issue not go away, but it will exponentially grow. As my mother said to me this morning "depression is simply blocked emotion" and I think she is absolutely correct.

So many of our ills are because we don't stay with the pain, ride the wave and breathe. I promise you it will pass. Either physical or emotional.

There is one necessary element in this that I have not yet mentioned which is knowing your limits. Now this is different from absolute statements about who you are/what kind of person you have convinced yourself you are... it is about knowing your edge. We talk about your edge in yoga a lot... but knowing your internal, emotional, edge is equally important. This idea of staying with the pain or difficult emotion is different from purposefully inflicting pain on yourself or wallowing in negative thoughts or self pity. As in all things, allow your inner knowledge to guide you in this matter.

At my YTT at Kripalu I betrayed my inner voice and allowed ego to take over at the very begging of the program. I took a pose too deep and re-injured my lower back which ultimately meant I had to ease up for the first half of the month-long program. Knowing your limits is hard and sometimes we will fail... but the lesson I learned was more valuable. There is no need to reside in pain for some higher goal or purpose.

In closing, don't run away from discomfort but know the distinct difference between making friends with your edge and crossing that line into pain and self denial. It is a tricky dance, but one that will help you grow and expand your practice and your mind.

Much love and namaste,



  1. You have capsulized so many concepts beautifully and helped to frame it in a useful, actionable way. Thank you young wise one.

  2. I believe that the hardest thing about yoga isn't challenging poses--it's allowing myself to be exactly at the level that I'm at on a particular day, at a particular moment in time. The hardest thing is being easy on myself. Being compassionate. It's all about the kripalu, I suppose--a word I still can't manage to pronounce.

  3. Absolutely! The poses are just a way to access something much deeper and ultimately more psychological and spiritual than the physical expression. I am listening to Pema Chodron's "Unconditional Confidence" right now and she speaks directly to how hard it can be to hush the inner critic and love yourself exactly as you are. Kripalu yoga is definitely all about finding what is right for your body and not comparing yourself to someone else or to your ideal.
    Stick with it Melissa! It might take time, but it gets easier each time you go to the mat!