How often in our lives do we race from place to place, never really stopping along the way to enjoy the ride? When we wait for something to come in the future, we’re stepping all over the present moment. This is something I see manifested quite frequently in the Vinyasa yoga classes that I teach. Students hurry through the transitions in the practice and instead rush to the glory of the next full posture that awaits them. We fling ourselves through chaturanga and upward dog only to arrive at the steadiness of downward facing dog. When the postures get more advanced, such as bakasana or handstand, it is easy and quite common to ignore the transitions altogether. The reasons for this can vary but it is probably a combination of a few different things.
First, transitions in yoga are tough. When we align the body and find stillness in a particular posture, there is an effortlessness that we can find. That isn’t to say that the poses are easy, especially when we hold them for long periods of time. But still, the work that it takes to move slowly into a pose is quite often much more difficult than the work we must do to simply maintain the pose. Laziness can get the best of us and so instead of putting in the necessary energy it takes to do it properly, we will often times just rush through. Committing to the strength and stamina to do it slow and to do it right will pay off in the long run. Those moments where your muscles are trembling on the way from one pose to the next are opportunities to grow in your practice and should not be avoided!
Second, a lot of the transitions in our yoga practice are the same, day in and day out. They get boring. For those of us who have been practicing for awhile, it wouldn’t be crazy to say that you’ve jumped forward from downward facing dog thousands, if not tens of thousands, of times. It is this reason why mixing things up in your regular practice is so important. If you always step forward, maybe start working on jumping. If you always jump, maybe work on stepping slowly. If you always step with the right foot first, maybe begin with the left. If you pike up with straight legs, maybe start bending the knees. These are just a few different ideas for one of the many regular movements that we make on the mat. Get creative and try not to move the same exact way every single time you practice. When we stop changing things up, it is easy to get stuck in a mindless repetition. Mindless repetition leads not only to a hurried practice but also to repetitive stress injuries.
Finally, being present with transitions can help bring your awareness back to the journey instead of the destination. There is never a final goal in our yoga practice, but it is easy to fool ourselves into thinking such. Each moment of our lives is as important as the next and the same goes for our time on the mat. The first breath in a pose carries no more weight than the previous step it took to get into it. This awareness of the “in-between” will show us the totality of our yoga practice from beginning to end instead of a mere sequence of postures. It will bring continuity as opposed to choppiness. There will still be a sense of accomplishment from the big poses, but in addition, there will be a newfound contentedness from seamlessly working through it. When we stop placing bigger importance on certain moments during our yoga, everything becomes rewarding; from the moment where you hold your handstand to the breath you lift your arms up in a high lunge.
Try to notice the next time you practice, are you focused on the transition or checked out? Are you waiting for the exciting poses or taking each breath as it comes? Is the difficulty from one pose to the next something you run from or embrace? The quality of your poses will improve when you give more attention to the transitions. I’ve also found that when I stop looking at my practice as a goal oriented journey, I start enjoying it a lot more. This translates to other areas of my life. When I stop looking so far forward, I can begin to enjoy each moment for what it is.