In our Western societies, much value has been placed on being "efficient", or as I like to think of it, rushing through life with our hair on fire to meet some imaginary deadline that doesn't really exist except in our own mind. This mindset can also follow us into our yoga practice. We place a lot of emphasis on yoga poses themselves while rushing through the transitions from one pose to the next. And this is where, if we don't pay attention, repetitive stress injuries can occur.
Transitions should be treated with as much respect as the asanas themselves. They are an integral part of a physical yoga practice. Over the years, I've seen quite a few iterations of transitional poses that made me cringe. So, in this post, I'm focusing on one of the most common transitions, the Half-Lift, and how to do it in a supportive and non-injurious way. It's one of those poses we don't really think about and figure we can fudge our way through because we've convinced ourselves it's not that important. But, in fact, it's crucially important because we do it often. Doing this pose properly will not only help you in your practice but in everyday life as well.
So, let's start with what not to do:
1) Dangling arms
When the hands or fingers aren't anchored to anything, this causes undue stress to the lower back (lumbar region of the spine). Doing this once or twice may not hurt you. Doing it repeatedly over time, that's another story that ends with "I've fallen and I can't get up!"
2) Rounded back
I've seen this quite often in my classes: a rounded back. When the back is round, the breath isn't sound. In other words, trying to breathe smootly, deeply and evenly when the chest is hollowed out like this is very difficult. Also, we've got enough issues with rounded backs seated at our desks and looking at our smartphones. Let's not drag that into our yoga practice as well.
3) FOMO neck
This is also a very common thing I see: students craning their necks to look forward. Basically, you're "crunching" the back of your neck, treating the discs of your cervical spine like last night's leftover rib bones tossed to the dog. It's like there's something to see at the front of the room that no one wants to miss. Do your neck a favour and admire your mat instead.
What to do:
The "Do No Harm to Thyself" Half-Lift
Notice the straight line from the crown of my head to my gluteal region. My feet are hip-width apart. My hands are anchored on my shins and my gaze is down towards my mat. I'm also drawing my chest forward to lengthen my spine and torso and sliding my bum up an imaginary wall behind me - this action will prevent you from rounding your mid and upper back. Try it out. I'm also drawing my navel in towards my spine to support the front of my body and lower back. Your fingertips can also touch your mat, if that's a possibility for you, as long as the hands are anchored to something. You can also play with pivoting the crooks of your elbows to face forward towards your mat (you may notice more openness in the collar bones and front of the shoulders when doing this).
When we treat our transitions like we do our asanas, we show our body some much-needed love and remind ourselves that moving quickly and inattentively only brings us closer to injury and further away from that calm mind and sense of inner peace that are the hallmarks of genuine well-being.