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Harder Or Better? Evolving Your Practice

in YogaDork Ed

by Kate Krumsiek

After meeting with a student a few weeks in a row, she looked over at me and said, “You were nice to me for the first few weeks. It’s so much harder now!” I smiled and told her that was just the way I like it. But silently, I scanned through what we had done. It wasn’t wildly complicated—I hadn’t planned for her to be overwhelmed or exhausted. The series we had done was a progression for her but not a knock your socks off change. It occurred to me: maybe it wasn’t harder so much as she was getting better at it.

I’ve always heard from runner or triathlete friends of mine that once you get started, it gets easier. You’re able to run, bike, swim longer with more ease and less stress. This makes good sense—we’re human, we adapt. So, what had I stumbled on with my student who experienced her movement practice as harder after investing in it for a number of weeks?

It’s often said in Pilates, “The more you know, the tougher it is.” I believe that this occurs with mindful movement as well. Feeling more precisely in the body can boost the sensation of effort, of contraction and demand on certain muscle groups that have been under-active due to habitual firing patterns. When we train in a more somatic fashion or, as I call it, a sensation-based practice (being hypersensitive to the way our bodies feel as they move and being guided by that sensation as a way to incorporate deep exploration in our practices) we are attuned to movement in a whole new way.

Many of us reserve this type of endeavor for after an injury or when we’re nudged by pain. When we cannot do the activities we love due to discomfort, we are inspired to unearth the cause that is hampering us. Pain sets the stage for a deeper, less predictable practice where sensations keep us alert and pilot us toward new patterns. Sensing the body on this level tunes us into the exertions of certain muscles and activates them in altered ways that garners our attention.

This new awareness of activation can make exercises feel more difficult because the muscles that were hiding in the background now have to get on board to balance movement patterns. One of the first tasks of balancing muscle activity is to figure out where the body is experiencing tightness or lack of mobility. Having a neuromuscular massage, utilizing therapy balls for self-massage, practicing breathwork and inward attention can accomplish this.

In the work I teach, I often instruct students to mobilize one area while drawing stability from another area—bringing balance to life in the body. Simply laying on your back in supine table and adding toe taps without changing the angle of the knee joint as you stabilize the pelvis will absolutely make the abdominals work harder. More bang for your movement buck!

As another example, many of my students like to add a backbend to Warrior One pose. The extension of the lumbar spine in this pose feels right to many students because our human structure has natural mobility in this part of the spine. Yet, stabilizing the spine in this area can make the back leg’s gluteus maximus light up with contraction. The neutral spine may wake the opening in the same side hip flexors, while the adductor muscles must engage to stabilize the femur bone in the hip socket. All of these potentially new sensations translate into making the pose more challenging (this is a GOOD thing) and they are improving the function and balance of the movement, which is why you’re on your mat to begin with.

Mindful execution of movement is a whole new experience for most of us. Identifying where we’re tight and working to mobilize that area while creating stability in another body part is challenging yet so gratifying. The payoff is especially exciting when these efforts support the ways we want to move without all the introspection—in our everyday lives engaging in the activities we love.

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From the start, the practice of yoga did it all for Kate Krumsiek—fitness, awareness, breath, alignment and clarity of mind. She couldn’t resist her drive to pass those gems along to others from the teacher’s mat. Kate’s training with Natasha Rizopolous provided an exceptional foundation of yogic knowledge from which to learn, teach and cast a wide net for continued study. Yoga Tune Up Teacher Training refined her lens of understanding to shine upon the anatomical and corrective aspects for practice—helping students identify and address postural habits that impair efficient, effective movement in the body. 

Photo by Artem Beliaikin

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