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"Just Legs Up the Wall"

(You may remember this post from our old website, we have updated it and want to share again!)

A few weeks ago I asked a student if they’ve practiced since the last time I’ve seen them, like I always do. She said “no”. She was sick, so she wasn’t up to doing much. COMPLETELY understandable. But this surprised me because this student usually does legs up the wall minimally. So I asked, “what about legs up the wall?” to which she replied “oh yeah, I do that all the time. I don’t count that as practicing”... WHAT?!? Later the same day another student said something similar about the restorative practices that he’s been enjoying.

I get what they’re saying. I love vigorous yoga practices. I like being physically challenged and sweating my butt off. And I'm a big fan of that yoga burn that catches up with you within the next 2 days. Do you know what makes those sessions even more enjoyable? Slowing my practice down every so often so I can explore, fine tune, and understand my body in a way that moving 1 breath at a time or even staying for 5 breaths doesn’t allow time for. When I’m ready to kick up the intensity again, I ALWAYS have a better understanding of alignment and depth which makes those vigorous practices much more enjoyable. There are so many awesome reasons to slow your practice down. I’d like to share with you 5 of my favorite reasons:

1. Switching things up can prevent yoga burnout. Sometimes a vigorous practice can feel like an overwhelming task. That could be a sign that it’s not the type of practice that will suit your needs that day, or at that time in your life. Your strength might be needed in other places. Life happens. Sometimes life is physically demanding. These moments are the perfect time to take the intensity out of your practice and focus on pranayama (breath work), bandhas (Locks) and your dristi (Focal point). The practice is meant to serve you. You shouldn’t be a slave to it.

2. It’s easier to explore bandhas. It’s easy to forget mula bandha when we move at a faster pace through our practice. Slowing down gives you an opportunity to go through your check list and make sure mula bandha is accounted for. Are you holding your breath when you work mula bandha? Does the engagement disappear during your time in the posture? If so it could be a strength issue where it just needs to be built up or sometimes it’s an awareness issue. Focusing in when you don’t have to bear weight or balance gives you the freedom to explore this super important piece of your vessel.

3. The practice doesn’t progress without it slowing down. There is a strength, depth and relaxation relationship to the practice that needs to be in balance for advanced postures to be obtainable. Your practice will rarely progress (the chances are better that it will degrade) if you don’t check in at a slower pace. Not only should we slow our practice down but we should stay back from our full range. Rotations can’t be corrected if you are at your full range. This will lay down unwanted patterns and can potentially cause injury immediately or cause wear and tear over time. There are important elements to each position that can’t be found if you don’t stay for an extended amount of time or if you have to bear weight and/or balance.

4. It’s not a race or marathon, there’s no finish line. The closest part of the practice that resembles a finish line is savasana or maybe some breath work at the end, which every practice should have no matter what came before it. Even when you complete a series there’s another series to work on and you will always go back to the beginning for various reasons. The process is cyclical. There are no steps backwards. There are only side steps that make the journey more pleasant. I’ve been asked before “what level am I?”. My general response, “ If you want to be a certain level, just pick what level you want to be and poof, you got it!, it doesn’t mean anything when the process is infinite ;)”. I want to say this loud so the people in the back can hear. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS YOGA LEVELS! When you're looking at group classes they list levels based on accessibility that in no way applies to everyone. This is a helpful way for people to navigate what type of class to take but it does not define where you are on your yoga journey. We are considered beginners for the first 10 years.

5. We come to our mat to breathe and balance our microcosm, not to conquer poses or series.Yoga is breathing and breathing is yoga! It is the thread that connects all asanas (physical postures). It doesn’t matter how complicated the movement or asana is. When we aren’t physically moving our bodies from inhale to exhale, we can examine how we breath. For instance, when we ujjayi breathe we are breathing with sound and working to match the inhales and exhales in length, tempo, and sound quality. When our heart rate is up the chances are that our breath is shortened. When we practice in a way that keeps our heart rate low we are able to focus on extending the breath.

Sometimes it can be challenging to slow down. That can be very hard for certain personality types. Those personality types are commonly attracted to ashtanga yoga, myself included. Let’s all slow down, breathe and feel everything.

And when someone asks you if you've practiced recently and you've done a restorative practice or maybe "just legs up the wall" the answer is "yes!", with no disclaimers. Because you set that time aside to open and align your body and breath. That is where yoga happens no matter how long or short the practice was, how vigorous it was, or how complicated the asanas you worked through were.

Just a side note, even if you literally have not practiced any asana recently but you practice the other limbs of yoga such as non-harming, truthfulness, contentment, breath work, etc.. that still means you're practicing yoga. Let's keep in mind that asana is one limb out of eight. When one "practices yoga" that could mean many things, not just physical poses.

Keep practicing Yogi's!

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