by Marshall Bowden
In this piece originally written for Yoga Journal, Jason Crandell talks about transitions from a relatively stable yoga pose to one that requires a stronger sense of balance. His examples are Warrior I to Warrior III and Garland pose to Crane Pose. Both of these combinations challenge one to change one’s center of balance while in motion and require the practitioner to trust in his or her own strength and ability to balance.
Strength is required to complete and hold these poses, but the transition from one to the other is a different matter entirely. “Moving slowly through transitions is more demanding, mentally and physically. But if you always rely on momentum to take you to the next pose, you’ll never build the strength to stop using your momentum.”
The moment that one’s toes leave the ground in moving from Garland to Crane pose may seem like the beginning of the journey, but that journey really begins before that, as one leans into the pose, pressing the elbows against the upper arms and engaging the abdominal muscles.
“Don’t try to lift your feet in the last state of the transition” writes Crandell. “Rather, continue to lean forward until your feet begin to lift off the floor naturally. There is a significant difference between these two approaches. In the first approach, you’re still trying to lift up before the weight of the body is evenly distributed and balanced. In the second approach, the feet are lifting as a result of being in balance.”
The difference between transition into a pose and the pose itself is the difference between getting there and being there. Off the yoga mat, in ‘real’ life, we frequently try to get through transitions in as quick a manner as possible so that we can reside in a more comfortable state. But life teaches us that the comfortable plateau we reach today will be short-lived. Sooner rather than later, we will be faced with another transition.
The fact is that we spend more of our lives in transitional phases than in settled, comfortable phases. We find the career that we want, but discover relationships that are not working in our lives. We feel at ease in our relationships but can’t seem to attract the money we need to live satisfactorily.
As with yoga asanas, we need to learn to take life’s transitional lessons more slowly and savor the journey from one pose to the next. The sweet ache we feel in our muscles as we stretch into Warrior III mimics the ache in our hearts as we lose people and aspects of our lives that we cherish and move toward new adventures and new people we haven’t even met.
We don’t always necessarily have the wisdom to know when it’s time to move into the next phase of our lives. Instead, we may grasp at the life we’ve been living because it’s become familiar despite its limitations. As Crandell suggests, we have to trust enough to feel ourselves lifted into the new phase as a result of everything being in balance.
And that is precisely the thing that we can practice on our yoga mats—creating the balance necessary to move into and sustain whatever pose we are trying to achieve without grasping and forcing the issue. So it all comes full circle. Our practice helps us understand how to better move into and out of the phases of our life, and our life adds a larger dimension to our practice that gives it deeper meaning and keeps us coming back for more.