In praise of small changes

Small and steady changes in the growth of a potted plant-- four stages

I love my Saturday morning Artemis studio yoga class.  It’s not too early (9:30am– I’m not a morning person), and I love the atmosphere.  It’s a beginner-level class that I’ve been going to since I restarted yoga a year and a half ago.  My friend Norah and I often meet there, and we both continue to make new discoveries about our bodies while going through the now-familiar poses and flow sequences.

Our teacher, Joanne, is all about going small in yoga.  What she constantly emphasizes in class (in a good way) is how the movements we make to get into the poses are going to be small, not drastic.  What she likes to say is that we all want to stretch or bend a lot because we think it means we’re good at yoga.  However, it tends (at my level of practice) to mean that we’re not working the muscles the pose is meant to work.  Of course, it might be cool some day to do this:

Extreme Acro-yoga pose: woman with chest on floor, left leg up an back, right leg extended to front, arms by side.

Extreme Acro-yoga pose: woman with chest on floor, left leg up an back, right leg extended to front, arms by side.

However, in Joanne’s class I’m really enjoying getting comfortable in downward facing dog.

Jessamyn Stanley, yoga teacher and body positivity advocate, in black leggings and orange shirt, facing down on the mat, with arms out in front, legs back on mat, in inverted V.

Jessamyn Stanley, yoga teacher and body positivity advocate, in black leggings and orange shirt, facing down on the mat, with arms out in front, legs back on mat, in inverted V.

After a year and a half of resuming yoga, I finally get it.  Downward Dog used to feel painful and unpleasant, with all my weight on my arms, wrists, hurting.  But shifting my hips up and back, I now find the energy in my legs and hips takes a lot of the pressure off my arms, and in fact the pose feels restorative and a little bit restful.  Whaddya know…

Now, this will sound silly, but one pose I’ve never felt completely comfortable with is mountain pose.  For those of you who don’t do yoga, mountain pose is this:

Tadasana, mountain pose-- standing on may, feet together, arms out to side or in prayer position at your chest.

Tadasana, mountain pose– standing on may, feet together, arms out to side or in prayer position at your chest.

Mountain pose is basically just standing up on the mat (I know, I know– it’s more than that; but still…) So what’s my problem?

I have bigger thighs, so putting my feet together doesn’t feel totally comfortable. So I’ve been doing a variation– standing with my feet hips’ width apart.  I thought that would make me more stable– wider platform, more stability, right?

One version of foot position in mountain pose-- feet on the floor hips' width apart.

One version of foot position in mountain pose– feet on the floor hips’ width apart.

Turns out, that’s not right for me.  Lately, in mountain pose, I have kept looking down to see where my feet were, and futzing with different positions.  Nothing felt really super stable.

Yesterday in class, we were doing some variations on chair pose.  It looks like this:

A woman standing, feet together, knees bent, arms above her head and straight, in chair pose.

A woman standing, feet together, knees bent, arms above her head and straight, in chair pose.

I tried doing this with feet apart, but just for fun, put them together for the pose.  Wow, that felt better!  I didn’t know I could do that.

Taking this idea and running with it (well, since it was yoga class, I had to be still with it), I switched up my feet for mountain pose to now look like this:

Foot position in mountain pose-- a pair of feet together, toe mounds touching, on the floor.

Foot position in mountain pose– a pair of feet together, toe mounds touching, on the floor.

Wow– what a difference!  I could finally relax into the stability of the pose, which serves as the foundation for all the other poses in yoga.  It really shifted something for me.  Feeling stable on the ground is a pretty basic requirement for balance.  I’m working on this in several areas of my life.  What a pleasant surprise to find that making a very small change made such a big difference.

Readers, have you experienced the effects of small changes or shifts in physical practices?  I’m really interested to hear your stories.

About catherine w

I'm an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I'm interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I'm also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.

3 thoughts on “In praise of small changes

  1. emvardz says:

    It’s cool how tiny shifts in poses can make all the difference!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. ainsobriety says:

    Yes. Many teachers give cues to lift the arches of the feet, creating more arch, and pressing into the outer edge of the foot.

    I ended up with a stress fracture in my foot. I have extremely high arches, and for me pressing down into the big toe mound often makes much more sense.

    Yoga encourages me to be more informed about my body, ecause we ARE all different. And as a teacher I hope I pass that on.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. bone&silver says:

    Sometimes I do my dance warm up lying in the floor with my eyes closed- then every tiny change feels more ‘felt’. You could try Dog pose with eyes closed (not Mountain though, you’ll prob fall over!)

    Like

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