Forget the name of the yoga pose for better results

Learn how you can actually take yourself further in many ways by temporarily ‘forgetting’ you call it “yoga pose X”. There is a reason why “yoga backbends” often elicits straight up fear. Yet is it the topic or the labeling that we use that we need to be more mindful of? There is a way to use language differently or turn it off altogether that can stop the fear people sometimes feel when in yoga backbends or any other types of poses. This is about a perspective to use that can help open up you or your students to deeper, pain-free postures, further than what you may first think. Here is why you can sometimes forget the name of the yoga pose and actually get better results:

When do you call it ‘a yoga pose’?

yoga poseFor memory. If you want to learn something that you can walk away with and use later, it helps to have a handle to pick it up by. That’s what labels do for experience and it’s how language works. When I teach beginners, I use different labels to assist better retention of sequences in memory. To encourage memory I also use a lot of visual input- “look at the pose first”. As they do the posture, they get a name to hold on to it. The conscious mind is satisfied that it got something, then it packages it up and stores it away in a category. Done.

So how could that be a problem?

When you hear “do a wheel pose” you will immediately respond with a form of “I like this/ I can do it” or “I don’t like this/I can’t do it”. There is a special place in the mind, a file you store away called “wheel poses”. In that file you have stored various ideas about what it should mean. How you feel about it. Certain images come to mind. Yet it happens so fast you might not be even conscious of it.

Interestingly, acting on the label of “wheel pose” also reliably produces a certain use of the body and a consistent way of coming into it. Memory is also stored in the body, so to make ‘sense’ of the memory, you do a muscled approximation of the words, “wheel pose”. It may even be expressed in a more strained than it needs to be. Using a labels, your mind looks to confirm what it expects to find. It’s like the saying, “walk around with a hammer and what you find are nails”

For example, I can spend an hour exploring the movements of the shoulder and the arm, how to use it in different ways to get maximum range in backward bends. I will inevitably see students light up and move in new ways. They may find more optimal movements for getting into deeper postures, and as the class is sequenced from shoulders, spine, pelvis, and hips, students “find themselves in a backward bend” instead of “doing a wheel pose”.

Yet, if I switch back to a label such as “do a wheel pose” most often it will revert back to the old, less optimal habit that has been built up. People will almost always respond first with what they think it should be, not what is actually happening in their bodies.

It can take time to shift away from relating to the visual/verbal mode of thinking and into a feeling-based perception and even more time to take that awareness into flowing movement, but the hard work will really pay off. But without exploration to find new definitions, a yoga practice quickly plateaus and learning becomes slower.

What it means to really ‘think outside the box’


Many neurobiologists believe that the unique character of individual human beings, their disposition to feel, think, learn, and remember, ultimately resides in the precise patterns of interconnections between the neurons of the nervous system.  By extension, I believe that exploration of yoga postures without going into language, can start to generate many new patterns of neuronal interconnections. If your unique character is held in a certain configuration of physiology, breathing, and language, making new connections in your neurology can bring you new insights. Ones that can change the width and size of the boxes of perception that we all live in to varying degrees. With practice, you might discover that old patterns of behavior begin changing, even in vastly different contexts. You may get insights on projects that you have been working on, or discover that over time people will be saying; “you’ve changed, but it’s good”.

Choices to create new patterns of awareness

It’s about learning to explore physical sensations that may have been there the whole time but you didn’t notice before. Use language and then go beyond the language. You can try these different approaches –

  • Focus intently on the movements of the joints- As a teacher, know your basic anatomy. Guide your students to explore the movements of joints at small chunk levels so they cannot “hold” the experience with words. You must be able to elicit intense focus and concentration. As a practitioner, I suggest you close your eyes and move very slowly as you build up to the pose.
  • Re-label – It’s not “wheel” that you’re doing, you’re simply doing ‘X’. “You’re not doing a wheel, you are having your hands on the floor, your elbows in the air, your feet on the floor with your knees bent, and you’re simply beginning to lift your pelvis in the air…” Metaphors are very useful for this purpose, but remember to use new metaphors or it becomes it’s own label.
  • Initiate the movements from different places –  Use actions that originate from different areas of the body, such as one round pressing from the feet, the next it’s from the knees lifting, the next one is from the hips extending, and so on.

You may discover that when you focus on sensations without names, you will find deeper and more beautiful postures. Call it a side-effect of using poses to discover your body more. Learn to engage the mind in big chunks when you want to get an overall view but drop the labels when you want some new connections in your brain. So stop using your body to “get a pose”. Instead, use the poses to get into your body!

Do you agree? Have you used similar techniques with yourself or your students? Join the discussion!

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