Exploring OPTIONS for your movement/asana practice

Jen Schrader
(I really love these guiding questions for a truly integrated practice that yoga teacher and yoga therapist Jen Schrader outlines here and I thought One Heart students would be very interested to read. Printed with permission from the author. Anahata Giri)
Choices and options are not the same thing.  We have the ability and freedom to choose, but we might not have many options from which to choose.
One of the most useful things we can do as yoga teachers is to show students as many options and pathways as possible in regards to their movement/asana, then offer them the freedom to choose which one feels most useful for them.
If you have never been taught different options this might be a daunting prospect, so use the summer months – which are often quieter teaching times – to experiment with what and how you teach or practice.
You could pick one static pose (like Virabhadrasana 2) and one dynamic movement (like a spinal roll) and let curiousity and playfulness lead you on a pathway of discovery.  Here’s a few ideas to get you started.
– Explore the parts of your body that are lengthening and the parts of your body that are shortening
– What happens if you go deeper into the shortening or contracting muscles of the body and then release slowly (based on Somatic Movement Education)
– How does this feel compared to elongating your muscles?
– Where is your point of over-reach?
– What is the position of your joints in this movement or pose?
– Do the joints feel comfortably open and mobile or overstretched, cramped or hyperextended?
– Can you sense the position of your bones?
– Can you feel how force travels through the bones of your body?
– Can you sense the constant shape-changing of your organs as they are squeezed and released during movement/postures?
– Can you use the organs of the body as a support for movement, so they work in conjunction with bones and connective tissues rather than becoming a deadweight that needs to be supported?
– Let the natural rhythm of the breath dictate the pace of your movement rather than adapting your breathing to the pace of your movement.
– Can you imagine the movement/pose in your mind first, creating an energetic blueprint, and then allow your body to follow this blueprint?
Patanjali speaks of a balance of sukha (ease) and sthira (stability).  Too often we find that one of these elements is dominant, leading either to collapse and lack of stability and containment, or becoming too forceful, too rigid and exerting too much effort.
– Where is the sweet spot where you are applying just enough effort to maintain integrity – nothing more and nothing less – so your movement has the quality of supported ease?
– Where does centre instinctively feel for you  – around the level of the external navel, the energetic spot of hara or some other place?
– Can you maintain focus at this centre, moving and breathing freely, without tensing it?
– Imagine all your limbs are connected by an invisible thread to your centre.
– What does it feel like to move while the limbs stay energetically connected to this centre?
– Connect to the earth through your feet.  Can you feel how force travels through your bones, tracing a vertical line from the ground and upward through the body?
– Find your crown and your tail – how does it feel to move whilst keeping the relationship of these two structures?
– Your spine and your digestive system both follow a vertical line through the body.  What happens when you move with these two systems working together as a team, rather than the spine having to support the weight of the digestive system?
Note that all of these ways of exploring rely on an internal sense of your body.  How does it feel to move from a felt sense of your internal structure rather than an external focus of your architecture or form?
Written by:
Jen Schrader