#28daysofyin Day 26 - Posing Sleeping Swan
#28daysofyin and a yummy pose, known as Sleeping Swan in Yin (Eka Raja Kapotanasa in Sanskrit). This pose is a big hip opener I assume you’re all pretty familiar with…it shows up pretty regularly. I wanted to use this pose to talk about function over form, and the impact of skeletal variation, which is a big take-home lesson of the Yin Yoga practice. Thanks to the wonderful Paul Grilley, who really pushed this idea forward in the yoga world (he is my teacher; his videos and his trainings are worth exploring if you love this stuff). This idea is such common sense, but, just as common sense is uncommon in the real world, it’s actually pretty uncommon to come across this idea being really expressed and integrated in the yoga world.
We find ourselves in a bit of a pickle with yoga, right? On the one hand, it really helps to have a visual, so we can kind of see how we’re meant to position all our bits so we can enter a pose. On the other hand, it’s really rare that everyone who LOOKS 'the same' in a pose is FEELING the same in a pose. In this pose, Sleeping Swan, for example, in theory, you’ll feel it in the outside of the right hip. But guess what? I feel it in my left psoas almost exclusively in this pose at the moment. So were I to choose a pose to target my right outer hip, I would NOT choose this pose. However, in many of my students I’ve seen them rub their side bum in this pose as they shoot me dirty looks (I love my students!), so I know that many of them feel it here. So as a teacher, and a student, this presents us with a problem. How do we teach a pose if not everyone is feeling what we want them to feel? I love this from Bernie Clark: "We don't use the body to get into a pose...We use the pose to get into the body.” So where this leaves us, when we practise asana, when we practise yoga, it comes down to intention. >>>
Why get on our mats every day? What is the purpose? Why do a pose? Is it to look good on Instagram (note, I am not judging here, this is a valid intention!) or is it to release a certain muscle/tense area of the body or is it for longevity or to feel good? Our intention doesn’t need to be static and unchanging - when I first started exploring yoga I was curious and I think I wanted to be spiritual or something (I was 15!). Then I practised to be strong and look good (big focus on asana). Then I practised to ‘achieve’ certain asanas (big focus on asana). Then I had some pretty big stuff go on in my life and I practised for refuge (hello Yin yoga and meditation!). Then I stopped trying to escape and I practised to experience my inner space. Now, I practise to experience connection and communication with my body, and to feel good. I know when I am avoiding my practice (which these days includes meditation and pranayama, as well as other things I’ve brought in from my Taoist studies), I am avoiding myself, because there is something in my life that is not in alignment with my heart. This has been a long journey (I am now 30 and am by no means saying I’ve arrived anywhere-I am still all tangled up in craving and aversion and I know Patanjali would smack my bum for that!-I am just trying to show how our intention, our reason to experience Yoga every day, can shift). This is where the real essence of function over form lies. What are you getting on your mat for, every single day? Why are you sitting down on that cushion every morning? Why do that pose? Why do it over and over again? Why that pose and not another? Why why why.>>>
What has happened to yoga in the West (this is generalising, I accept that) is that form has taken precedence over function; the aesthetic has taken precedence. As teachers, we’re often taught to teach a pose (its alignment, where the limbs go etc), rather than to understand WHY and learn to assess a body, and more importantly, I think, the person attached to that body, and determine whether it’s right for them (or in the case of our own practice, us). We have become attached to the outward expression of yoga asana (the pose) rather than the experiential flavour sauce of the practice…cos hey, it’s much harder to capture an image of that incredible vastness experienced in deep meditation, or the lightness we can feel in a headstand, or the grounding of a pose like this one Sleeping Swan. This is why I encourage myself, and my students, to focus less on how their poses look, and rather to experience how they feel. Where do you feel it? Do you want to feel it there? Do you want to feel it more or less? What is the feeling tone of the body in this pose? Is there a heaviness? A lightness? An openness? A sense of something contracting or withdrawing? Is there anxiety? Is there ‘pain?’ What is pain? How do you relate to it? Start to get curious. Why am I doing this pose? Why am I doing this practice? Why yoga? I am not asking these questions to stimulate an intellectual discussion, but rather, to come to the heart of the matter. The intention. The purpose. The truth. There is no right and there is no wrong.
I’ll leave you to sit with this for today, and we’ll build on this tomorrow with skeletal variation and…more! To get into Sleeping Swan, come onto your hands and knees. From here, step your right foot between your hands and start to creep your right foot towards your left hand as your right knee falls towards the right hang. You’ll feel into that right knee and if it’s a bit scary, slide the right foot toward your groin a little. Start to lean forward, looking for a nice stretch to your right hip/buttock. Try tucking the back toes under and sliding the left knee away a few times until your right buttock is close to the floor. I’ve shown a few options here; in one photo, you’ll see I’m in the pose fully, back leg extended (TOP LEFT + RIGHT), arms stretching forward, head on the ground. Feel the weight settle back into the hips. If you’re comfortable, keep your elbows and/or forehead on a block/pillow/book/whatever you have handy, or bend your elbows and rest your head on your upper arms. In the bottom shot, you’ll see I have my right hip on the ground, and I’ve bent my back knee a little (THIS IS OK!!!!! We don’t care what it looks like.). This might be more comfortable for you. You could also stick a block/book/pillow/pet/friend under your right hip to rest on. Cool bananas! >>>
I like gravity; I find over five mins in this pose I open up and am resting flat to the floor and very happy, but others not so happy, gravity being too much, prefer some support. Don’t worry about how you look. Please. Just worry about how you feel. And you’ll see in the last shot I’ve shown what I find is kind of generally an ‘ideal’ (there’s no such thing, but bear with me!) place to lay the chest, over the front shin, between the knee and the ankle. I find in MOST bodies this is gentlest on the other joints. HOWEVER, if you find it feels better in your body to play another way, go for it. You can also lay your chest on a bolster if you have one. If you're really flexible, try to bring the front foot forward, pull the bent knee more to the side, and lay your chest on top of the shin. You’ll also remember a few weeks back my brother modelled a similar pose against the wall - check it out, Wall Pigeon - if you’re really finding this one is not possible for you. #yinyoga #yoga #paulgrilley #suzeegrilley #bernieclark #yogaforall #yogaposes #intention
bunnehladyThank you so much for this explanation! I really needed to be reminded about intention over form! I have been avoiding my practice recently and your post has given me the smack on the bum I need! 😋