My long-time yoga teacher, Bill Hunt, taught me so many things that I’ve remembered and that have helped me, not just in yoga, but in life. A lesson that has had a big impact on me related to paying attention to how you practice yoga and learning about yourself as you do it.
Each major category of postures relates to a stance you take in life or a way you deal with life. If you pay attention to which postures are hard for you to do, which postures are easy to do, which you don’t like, which you love you can see a lot about how you are in the world.
Forward bends relate to inwardness or being introverted. If forward bends are hard for you to do or you don’t like them (regardless of whether they seem easy or hard) there’s a good chance that you have trouble looking inward or delving deep into your psyche or that you’re extroverted. If you easily do forward bends or favor doing them you’re probably introverted or inclined to look inward.
Back bends relate to openness or letting yourself be out there and/or seen in the world. If you struggle to do them or just don’t like them you probably have a hard time putting yourself out there or tend to be introverted. If you love them and do them easily it’s likely that you’re extroverted and/or have no trouble being out in front of people.
Strength postures literally relate to strength. If they’re hard for you to do that says something about whether you show strength in life or a firm ability to hold your place. If they’re easy and you like to do them you probably face the world from a place of strength. If your muscles are so strong that you are held rigid there’s a good chance that you have issues of rigidity or inflexibility in life as well.
Balance postures (mainly the standing balances) reflect something about whether your life is balanced–emotionally, mentally, and/or spiritually. A flexible spine reflects your ability to be flexible in life and a spine that doesn’t move well reflects rigidity or inability to bend.
Way back when I took yoga classes from him (1986-1991) I quickly realized back bends were a major issue for me. I could barely get an inch off the floor in, say, cobra pose and since I was about as introverted as could be and virtually incapable of speaking in public I could see how my inability to bend backwards reflected the state of my being.
I began to work at back bend postures — slowly and lazily. Over the course of some years my ability to do them improved (still an upward curve for me). When they’d gotten to be pretty good I looked at my life and realized I’d been taking on leadership roles and teaching and feeling at ease in front of people for a while. I worked on lots of other stuff over those years so I can’t claim it was only the change in my ability to do back bends but I think it played a big part. Or perhaps the decision to work on a certain kind of postures reflects some internal decision to make a change.
Strength postures weren’t easy for me either and, although I could do them, I really didn’t like them. For some reason that didn’t bother me as much as the back bend issue so it’s just been in the last six or seven years that I’ve really worked at developing my ability to do postures like chair pose or my ability to hold downward dog for 50 breaths. The results are more subtle, but I can feel myself holding a stronger inward space, holding my own center with strength.
I find it fun and interesting to check in periodically to see where I am in my practice and what it’s telling me about my life. Check it out, you might learn something new about yourself or help yourself make a change by focusing on postures that support the direction in which you want to go.