“Am I doing the pose right?” I hear this question about a yoga pose or shape so often, from long-time students of yoga and brand new students, and they are all looking for a simple and clear “yes” or “no” answer to their question. Honestly, this is a very tough and complex subject because I do not hold the rightness of a pose, the student does.
Often, I turn the question back at the student, “Well, do you think you are doing the pose right?” Never have I heard a student reply with an enthusiastic YES. The answer requires a dialogue between the student and myself centered around what makes a pose right to begin with and who is determining the rightness, the student or the teacher or something else? We eventually arrive at a place together (that doesn’t always satisfy some students) in which their version of the shape is absolutely right, but the rightness is determined by several considerations.
Perhaps the most important consideration to reflect upon is, “What does the student consider valuable in this moment?” The answer to that question very often is directing the attention of the student into the shape in a way that allows the shape to take on a rightness that is alive and true in the moment.
The rightness of a yoga posture is not a reasonable goal, there is not a list of aspects of perfection or a checklist to complete. The rightness of a shape is determined by whatever the student thinks is important to attend to at the moment, (combined with the insights of a teacher that understands what is safe). It could be that the student chooses to value the breath, so the shape becomes that persons expression of breath. Or maybe the student values the feeling of bone weight and, therefore, is attending to the bones, and that attention on bones creates a very different feeling of rightness while in the shape.
I think this process of exploring what is important is at the heart of doing a pose right. The rightness changes based on where you are mentally, emotionally, intellectually and physically, as well as how you are perceiving yourself in relationship to whatever it is you are finding important about the shape at the moment.
As I practice, I often ask myself if there is something more that I need to do for the sake of bringing up the tone or alertness of a part of my body so that more of me can participate in the shape. I often ask myself if there is anything I can do less of so that I may experience being more comfortable in a particular shape, and that inquiry for me brings forth a feeling of rightness that is not an endpoint, rather a part of a constant unraveling of discovery, nuance and change.
I value comfort in a posture, in a movement, in a moment. The more comfortable I am as I continue to explore a shape, the more at ease I am with myself. Therefore, the rightness of a shape, for me, is determined by seeking comfort because it is important to me to be at ease with myself.
I don’t mean seeking comfort as a way to avoid or not engage with a particular asana. I want to engage with any asana so that I may learn from my practice to be at ease with myself whether I am in handstand or child’s pose. And, what I notice is that when I value comfort I experience myself along a continuum of responses in which I can interact with myself and the shape differently based on where I begin, how I am showing up and participating, and what I can perceive in the moment.
I am fascinated by how my experience of the shape and myself changes based on what I value or am finding important in the moment. If I can stay curious and comfortable, and fully participate as I practice, that feels right to me. If I can rest in myself, in my experience of the shape, and still be curious and comfortable then I am present. I then have the choice to respond in the moment and determine for myself the rightness of a shape, without the feedback from something outside myself telling me when I am finally doing it right.