The Middle: the Pose.
The second tenet, or The Middle, is about what is happening while in your final expression of the pose. The breath will be your guide here. Your job is not to seek deeper expression but to allow your mind to rest and your breath to help you sink into the pose. While you are sinking in, oxygen and prana (the subtle aspect of oxygen) are circulating throughout your body, feeding all of your cells. This is what separates yoga from stretching. This is where you get to enjoy the experience as you perhaps have already discovered. This is how you release tension and create an opening in your physical body.
Use the exhalation to relax. Use the inhalation to feed and energize. This allows your body to naturally begin to sink into the pose. Not via your willpower, or your endurance, or your wish to keep up, but through your breath. It is all about keeping control over the breath. If you lose that control, it is time to come out of the pose. You get the full benefit of the pose only when you keep your slow and steady breath. Return to the pose when you get your breath back, but make sure you return to the pose from the beginning–don’t just jump back in!
Also, take your brain out of your head. I know, that sounds weird. Put your brain into your body. Don’t overthink this; don’t try to get your head or hand or whatever lower; don’t let your mind get ahead of your breath. Relax your mind by focusing on your breath. “Thank you very much mind – you helped me understand the instructions and set the pose up. Now, I’m in it and I want to shift my attention to my Breath.” Your mind won’t mind.
Here’s the thing. These poses put our bodies into different configurations (or mudras). These configurations have developed over a thousand years or so because they allow for prana (breath) to circulate in different ways throughout the body. If we are not in alignment and if we are not breathing well, then we are stretching, but we are not doing yoga. We don’t get to really experience the benefit of the pose if we are “a-head” of it.
Being ahead of where we actually are can lead us to lose another very important benefit of our poses – enjoyment! Feel the amazing awesomeness of the pose you are doing. Take a moment to enjoy it! In my own practice I always look for the pleasure point. If you are stressed or in a lot of discomfort, you won’t sink in and relax. That leads to contracting and shallow breathing. Relax. Enjoy. Maybe I’m hedonistic but I don’t want to just feel great after I finish my yoga practice. I want to feel great from the beginning all the way through to the finish. Besides, if I relax and enjoy each pose I am maximizing the benefit of every minute I’m doing asana practice.
You can challenge yourself. You can go deeper. You can expand your yoga asana practice to include more advanced poses. But, do all that starting with the first step of each pose and once there, partner with your breath as your guide, sink in and enjoy.