Am I Doing it ‘Right’ on the Yoga Mat?
Updated: Jun 2, 2020
How often do you wonder if you’re doing things the ‘right’ way?
For me, this has long been a frustration. Am I raising my kids the right way? Squatting the right way? Supporting friends the right way? Running my business the right way?
It seems to me that we’re creatures of serious self-doubt (or is that just me and I’m getting it all wrong? - ha!)
Of course, this whole idea revolves around a central premise that there is one truly objective right way do any one thing.
And I just ain’t buying that.
This self-doubt finds its way onto the yoga mat all the time. Have you noticed? You’ll see a head pop up to peer around the room, just to check that they got the instructions right. Or, sometimes, a voice will pipe up: ‘is this right?’ it will call out, with a faint tinge of apology.
The thing is, as in our lives off the mat, the notion of ‘right’ on the yoga mat is a complex one.
Yet, we really want to know that we are doing it right. Sometimes this desire stems from the simple human drive to fit in and please others, but it’s also a practical issue of wanting to be doing the right thing in and for our body.
This big question has a surprisingly simple answer. Though, like most simple things, it’s deceptively nuanced.
What is the answer to the question of ‘Am I doing it right?’
It’s this: It depends.
Completely unsatisfying, to be sure.
But I’ll follow it up with this: It depends on your INTENTION.
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is ONE right way to do any particular movement or pose, I will say that there are ways that are better for you and your body than others. And, sometimes, they aren’t the ways that we’re taught.
I’m going to take a simple example here to explain what I mean.
Let’s talk about bridge pose (see pic below).
Now, in my opinion, the intention (or one of the intentions) behind creating this shape is to strengthen the muscles of your butt. This one intention has a bunch of other intentions that circle around it and through it, but when you lift your pelvis off the floor, the intention is to use the strength of your bum to do so.
I would also suggest that your intention is NOT to create or exacerbate tension. Yet, in an ironic twist, this is what we often see on the yoga mat.
When we move into this pose without a clear intention (maybe we’re simply trying to approximate the shape we see in someone else’s body with our own) then there’s a good chance we have no idea what we ‘should’ or could or might feel, and how that may or may not serve us.
One clear example in bridge pose is seeing someone neglect to intentionally utilise the strength of their glutes (bum). When this happens, the lift has to come from somewhere – but where? Often a place many of us experience chronic tension – the area of the back that sits around the bottom of the shoulder blades.
Now here’s a really important thing: If we’re moving into a pose like bridge that mechanically relies on the strength of the glutes to pull off but we’re NOT using the glutes, then that likely means that the glutes are absent or not pulling their weight in many of the movements we make off the mat as well.
This is where it gets interesting.
Maybe it’s not ‘wrong’ to go all back-bendy in your bridge pose. Perhaps it feels good and expansive and sweet. But do you want your yoga practice to improve your movement off the mat as well as on? If so, then we need to get curious about our intention AND our blind spots.
Here’s something to ponder: maybe, just maybe, you’ve never realised that your bum muscles aren’t helping you in the way they could to get into bridge pose. Because maybe you’ve never played with the level of attention that requires. It’s not a passing or cursory level of attention or even just a mostly-focused attention (that level of attention that has one eye on the present and the other on ‘what next’). It’s a level of attention far deeper than that.
This level of attention asks us to step out of our habits and be open to different ways of exploring the familiar. And sometimes that can be hard and uncomfortable.
Now this example of bridge pose is just one example. To show you how intention really matters, let’s flip this to assume that your intention in coming into bridge pose is to experience a restful, restorative inversion.
If so, now we’d be less interested in the power of the glutes, and more interested in your capacity to create and allow support.
This might mean sliding a bolster beneath your hips, draping an eye pillow over your eyes and finding the easiest position for the feet and knees that allows you to exert the least amount of effort.
If you came into a restful version of bridge pose with your bottom squeezed and your hamstrings firing, then would you be doing it ‘right’? Not really – because it doesn’t match your intention.
We could play with countless examples here, but I hope the above highlights the simultaneously simple and complex answer to the question ‘am I doing it right?’
Put the two together and you have the answer to ‘am I doing it right’ without ever uttering a word.