Go deeper, get stronger, and stay safer in movement
I was recently inspired by a quote from a recent interview with Pavel Tsatsouline of StrongFirst notoriety (a Special Forces trainer known for bringing kettlebell training technique out of the former USSR):
“Use strength, find space, spread the load … and breathe through the tight spot.” ~ Pavel Tsatsouline
Pavel’s techniques are globally known to be powerful ways to progress with attaining physical strength. He goes into some detail about each piece:
Rather than just dropping into a movement, actively move yourself, constantly. If you’re squatting, don’t just drop into the squat but actively lower yourself there. Don’t just slide into the splits, actively press your feet apart. In other (yogic) words, move consciously and deliberately.
Addressing fascia specifically, Pavel uses the metaphor of pulling a post out of the ground. If you just grab hold and pull, you won’t have much luck. But, if you “wiggle” it loose, work it from all angles, ease the grip the ground has on it, it’ll slide right out. In movement, don’t just jam into a joint and push; rather, ease in and out, come at it from different angles, and most importantly, RELAX as much tension from your body as possible.
Spread the Load
Make the movement/shape holistic. Don’t just focus on one joint, but explore how you can make the movement happen throughout your body.
Breathe Through the Tight Spot
Holding your breath tight or restricted will tense your entire body. Be patient, be persistent, be good at practicing.
Taking these principles to the yoga mat, here’s how this might change how you move:
Pavel’s Approach, on the Yoga Mat
All of yoga is a practice of balancing strength and ease. Strength and ease in balance feels comfortable. Too much strength = pushing/effort, strain, loss of energy. Too much ease = loss of focus, lack of change, resting into (and putting a lot of un-countered force through) your joints. When you’re first learning a yoga posture, use your inhale to focus on strength, your exhale to focus on ease. The more you practice, the easier it becomes to find this balance consistently, with strength and ease infusing every inhale and exhale.
Finding space in a pose can be done in a few ways. I love to teach this principle in terms of imagery: As you practice, imagine the wave of your breath creates a subtle wave throughout your entire body. Feel the expansion and increasing energy of your inhales and the relaxing let-go of your exhales as though this happens through and between every cell. This wave can become quite kinetic, turning your posture into a dynamic movement. In cobra, for example, this could become lifting and lowering through the spine, or emphasizing the front and back ribs expanding and sinking into your body along with your breath.
You can also just start “wiggling” around the joint/s. In Frog Pose (straddle), go between squeezing your knees towards each other and pressing them apart. Rock your pelvis like you’re drawing a line up and down the back wall with your tailbone. Shift your weight forward into your forearms and back into your hips. Dance in, out, around, and through the posture.
Another way to find space is what Pavel touches on in the final point: Breathing through the tight spot. Keep your body fairly still, but get energetically focused. Each inhale, try to expand your entire body – or a specific area you’re looking to loosen. Each exhale, fully relax while still holding the shape.
Spread the load by practicing yoga as though your entire being is doing it. Be fully engaged. This doesn’t mean applying extreme effort until failure. It means be present, extend your attention from one point in the pose (say, your hips in Triangle) to all joints in that pose. Play with shifting your weight over different points (getting more support out of your back foot in Triangle, or using your hand on your shin – and your shin pressing up into your hand – to bear more of the weight that’s taxing your low back/side waist) or changing your pose to take weight differently (bend and straighten your lead knee, reach your arms in different directions).
What I love about this approach is not only that it’s smart, but it’s so PLAYFUL. We’re always taking shapes in yoga. It’s a movement practice. But what we’re really doing is practicing a quality of approach. Not just what are you doing, but HOW are you doing it? Relax, enjoy, breathe, and do the thing like you love it!