If you’ve watched an advanced practitioner in their yoga asana practice, there’s a sweet quality of how they move between postures. There is no huffing, puffing, drama, fidgeting, scratching, adjusting clothes, getting a drink of water, stomping about. The breath moves uninterrupted, the placement of limbs is confident, adjustments are done almost imperceptibly. The space between is as essential a part of the practice as the postures themselves. When the transitions are easeful, the entire practice becomes a moving meditation: the extra motions dissipate energy.
Like everything else in yoga, what happens on the mat reflects the mind off the mat. By paying attention to the quality of movement from one situation to another – the quality of presence in a move, or a relationship or job change, or a health opportunity, a loss or even a gain makes a difference. By practicing mindful transitions on the mat in these tiny moments, we begin to bring fluidity to the transitions everywhere in our lives.
The three keys to enabling graceful transitions in the postures are breath, bandhas and gaze (drishti).
Breath: Whenever you are getting prepared to make any movement in yoga, the inhale or exhale begins a microsecond before the movement, and ends a microsecond after the movement. The same is true in a transition – let the transition be guided by your breath. For example: If you complete warrior 2, and are ready to come out of it, you inhale to straighten your legs, exhale to turn your feet forward, inhale to step to the top of the mat, exhale hand in prayer or to your sides. When going into the posture, inhale fully, exhale and step back, sinking in fully.
Bandhas: Bandhas are key to bringing your muscular energy into your core, which creates a strong basis for balance in motion.
Gaze: All dancers know that one of the tricks to staying in balance is to keep your eyes on a single point. In a way, you borrow the stability of the object you are looking at. In yoga, the gazing point, or drishti is an integral part of every pose – each pose has a specified drishti. This gaze and focus is also integral to the transitions. Our attention follows our gaze, so if the transition calls for a step forward, look forward. Let the stability of external objects assist your balance in transition.
As you start noticing the quality of transitions, one of the easiest places to begin in the rhythmic repetitive sun salutes that often begin a practice. The next place to try it is in the standing postures- for example, when moving between trikonasana/triangle pose on each side or breathing into side angle.
Where people usually begin to stall out in elegant transitions – where a lot of mindstuff begins to come up- is when we start to do balances like tree. Can you make getting into tree as gentle and unfussy as bowing forward? Can you come out of tree with a slow lowering of your foot to the floor, returning drama free to mountain pose? The other place the transitions get sticky is in seated postures. This part of the practice is still meant to be a flow: movements linked together by breath. Seated postures aren’t static, we are always creating action.
For an elegant practice and an elegant, resilient flow in life, try this: pull your energy to the center, breathe deeply, set your gaze.