You know how you feel when someone tries to make you do something? That bit of resistance, maybe even defiance? Even if it was something you would have done on your own, sometimes that pressure can make you want to do the exact opposite! It turns out our muscles feel the same way. An article I read recently (cf., link below) detailed how you really can’t force a muscle to stretch. If you do, the body sends messages to the brain saying "wait hold on here, this is going to be too much!" And then the opposite happens, the muscle tends to tighten under pressure, rather than release. The only way to get it to stretch is to relax and let it happen gradually.
We had a great example of this in class the other night. One of our wonderful students was trying to push his way into Fixed Firm. I happened to walk by him and could hear his forced breathing and mild groaning. I teased him, “maybe if it’s that hard you should not be doing it!” And the funny thing is, he started laughing, his back released, and he found himself all the way back in the posture, further than he had ever gone before. It was a fun moment and a great lesson for all of us.
Often in our practice we want to do the posture perfectly, we want to make it look as good as the person in front of us. We think that if we just keep trying, pushing, we will achieve this elusive perfection. But the truth is the perfection in any posture is what is perfect for YOU! We each have our own unique build and combination of strengths and weaknesses. The postures will look different on different people. Your body is always sending you messages about what is right for you. The challenge is to listen to the body, ignore the ego, and see what feels good. One of the wonderful aspects of our practice is the way we get into the postures and then hold them long enough to let the body release.
So next time you are trying to push your way into a posture (or anything else for that matter), relax a little bit, maybe even laugh or smile. See where the relaxation takes you, and you might be surprised at how far you will go.