Have you ever wondered what your yoga teacher means when she instructs you to “go deeper into the pose?” What exactly does this cue mean? Let’s say you’ve been holding the pose for a while, and are already shaking and trembling. Then instead of calling out a new pose, your teacher calls out “drop deeper into the pose!” You summon the courage to try it … but you aren’t exactly sure how, or what component of the pose needs further deepening.
As a teacher and a teacher trainer with more than 25 years of experience, I have seen my fair share of confused yoga students interpreting this cue in myriad ways:
- Some will push into their flexibility edge, attempting to deepen a bend in a joint here or there.
- Other students might use excessive force and over-exert to maintain a pose at a depth of position that may be unsuitable for their structure.
- Still other students will shut their eyes and travel to a place of psychic or imagined depth, recognizing that the cue “go deeper” may also be synonymous with “hold the pose longer. Much longer.” And they “space out” in order to “get through it.”
Is “going deeper” into a pose always the best cue?
Looking at the “go deeper” interpretations above, let’s reason with them in depth.
- Going physically deeper into a pose is not always the best option. For one, your body might already be at its legitimate “edge,” so you may not be able fold or bend deeper into the pose without damaging some tissues.
- Attempting to muscle your way through a long hold with poor alignment can render your muscles listless, exhausted or even too injured for the next poses in your lesson.
- Mental and physical fatigue can push you into instability both physically and mentally. When “going deeper” means you’ve become un-present and your mind has vacated the premises of your own body, it may be time to metaphorically “go into shallow water” so that you can get your feet back on the ground.
A new definition of “going deeper”
So rather than risking a strained muscle from over-stretching, drowning in a pool of sweat from overdoing it, or zoning out during our practice, we can repurpose “go deeper” to make it meaningful and specific every time we hear it.
Why not try “going deeper” into your awareness? What I mean by this is to develop a penetrating inner gaze. Cycle your mind through every aspect of what you are currently aware of, and become both a participant and an observer to your practice. When you deepen your awareness, you will become richly present with the sensations in your joints, soft tissues, heart and mind and be able to make choices within the context of your practice. You develop a keen sense of proprioception, knowing exactly where all the parts of your body are in the moment. My anatomy mentor Gil Hedley refers to this as being a somanaut, a word he coined to describe one who navigates the inner space of the body.
Deepening your awareness will bring more intelligence to your practice and provide you with the specific information that will improve your connection to all parts of yourself. Practicing awareness will also deepen your relationship to your behavior in the world off the mat.
May your awareness expand upon itself and sustain your depth of practice.
I bow deeply, Namaste.
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[Reprinted with permission from GaiamLife.]
I quite like the new definition of ‘going deeper’, ive heard it soo many times and thought to myself (i bloody can’t go deeper). but deeper into body/mental awareness, yeah, makes sense, especially when there’s a link between level of proprioception and pain.
I really appreciate this post. So often I would hear this cue, and started to realize that it might mean different things to different people. Ultimately, each student in the class needs to be the boss of their body and know where stop, and where to keep going. However, we know that doesn’t always happen. It toes the line of “no pain, no gain” – which in gain, we can substitute deeper ROM in our joints for a deeper expression of the pose. But, for someone who doesn’t have that usable ROM, injury can occur. I like how a subtle change in language: “go deeper into your awareness” can give a more clear description of what you would like your students to focus on. Sometimes it’s not even a change in our body position, but just a change of what we are focusing on and noticing.
Thank you for this insight! This will benefit me in my personal practice, and I hope to one day be able to share this way of thinking with the students I encounter. It can be hard not to push past our edges at times… so thank you for bringing it back to the roots, and touching on the importance of having a healthy understanding/connection with our bodies.
I REALLY HOPE I do not say “go deeper” as much as I might be unconsciously saying it. I HATE this phrase, not only because I am Gumby flexi with unstable joints and “go deeper” may mean yank that foot over you head…when I am over tired or just spacing out. And generally, I DO space out when the teacher instructs “Go deeper.” I truly appreciate Ana Forrest in that she has the amazing ability to call me out on that in a workshop of 60-70 people! FInally, something else I have learned which I find extremely useful in teaching is NEVER TO USE THE VERB “drop.” It implies letting go of mindfulness as well as stability (for those of us Gumbies…)
I have occasionally used the phrase “May be go little deep into the pose if the body allows you to”. Reading this Article, I don’t think that was completely correct either.. “going deeper” into your awareness will be one of my new Mantras..Thank you Jill!!
Oh thank you for that! I am currently working on my homework assignment for tomorrows class (YTU-Level 1), Balls Sequence and Sweet Sixteen Sequence. I plan on using Uttasana as my peak pose and you just saved me from cuing “go deeper”. I think since it is a pose to further relaxation I will have them ‘map’ their body a you suggested by providing a visual guide..a slow climb up the back of the body before gliding into a slow waterfall down the front.
Thanks so much for the heads up…and someone just reading this de-stressed me a little. I think I’m going to go invert 🙂
I don’t think I’ve ever given this instruction. I don’t think I’ve ever been concerned with how deep someone can get into a pose. I just want my students to be happy and I guess it never occurred to me that going deeper would benefit them in the long run.
Thank you for the reminder, it is often challenging to do less when everyone around you is doing more including the teacher who is asking for you to do more..I’ve been there with my clients as well and know that part of my job is to push them but with an understanding that they will tell me when it is enough, or sometimes the opposite- for me to stop them from doing more just because they can or because I told them to. I love the idea of “going deeper” meaning your awareness, after everything I learned with Yoga Tune Up classes and workshops I love being in a pose and giving myself a thousand cues that will 100% make my pose harder but not by going lower or adding more intensity and compromising my body!
Finding the mental balance of a pose is just as important as finding the physical balance of the pose.
I love this article…I cant wait to use it as a cue for my students when I finish my TT. What a beautiful expression of a pose!
Good topic to cover. like everything when hearing that que it means many different things to each individual in the room practicing that day. As we expand our awareness to other parts of the body in “going deeper” we can begin to see what needs to be active and what does not, in doing so finding a nice space balancing between activation and surrender. I like recommending students to go deeper, more so because of the reflection of self that is hopefully seen while in relationship to that posture being executed. Like an intimate relationship what we see of ourselves in relationship to our partners at 1 month is very different than at 1 year or 10 years. The more we choose to go deeper/deepen our awareness in relationship to what ever asana or practice we engage the more we begin to know more completely who why and how we are or be.
Thanks for the post!
Love it, going “deeper into your awareness” instead of deeper into the stretch. I’ve become real curious this last 8 months and I would say I’ve been studying anatomy fanatically or passionately. And it’s incredible to see all the various information and often conflicting info on stretching but more and more I am seeing particularly in Yoga teachers who teach Yoga daily and hold poses and over stretch their body seem to be the ones that are always ended up with various forms of lower back problems and I’m loving the YTU approach to more Dynamic forms of stretching opposed to spending several minutes in Static stretching. It’s been a fantastic journey and I’m looking forward to continuing the journey of looking deeper into my awareness opposed to stretching.
I love this. For years it was always “go deeper.” I just keep replaying a scene from the movie “Super Troopers” where a guy in a car is pulled over and the office asks him to pull over. He just cries “but I’m already pulled over! I can’t pull over any more!” The invitation should always be to find a deeper place in your body, heart and mind, not necessarily in that order. We see so many yoga injuries in our clinic from people trying to go deeper instead of listening to their bodies and connecting deeply within. Thank you Jill for posting this beautiful article.
I like Alicia’s comment above about gross to subtle. I often use this as a tool for exploration in my yoga practice. I call it excavating the layers. I observe every stage of the pose from the initial process of “finding” the pose, to the sensation of my limbs, to the sensation of individual components of my body, to the thoughts or feelings that might arise while I’m in the pose. Another way I sometimes think of it is moving from the macrocosm to the microcosm. Yes, I can feel the overall shape I’m in, but can I feel the pose on a muscular level? On a cellular level? On a mitochondrial level? There is valuable information on every level.
I’m so glad you touched on this topic as I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard exactly that, “Go deeper into the pose.” And I think, ‘Where the hell else am I gonna go?!?’ I do like the term, “Go to your edge” so long as I haven’t already been in the pose for a year and a half. Taking the introspective route is excellent because it gives students permission to reliqush the images of the other participants and really feel what’s happening within the body’s tissues, with the breath but also what’s happening in the mind. (As someone with chronic monkey brain, this actually gives me more focus and helps with quieting.) This way they can self-assess.
I do always preface to my students to listen to there body, but I do often say “see if you can go deeper.” Obviously, I never meant it in an injurious way, but rather as an exploration of one’s edge, to see what is possible. Though I have been aware that not everyone has great proprioception, my intent for my statement probably comes from my abililty to sense when I’ve gone far enough. Though I could see how people can go to far, I hope that I am able to spot a potentially hazardous senario. So my new direction will be to build students proprioception, to encourage them to go inward and ask “is this far enough?”
Thanks, that is really useful. I agree that it’s too tempting to DO something instead of bringing awareness to how things are, both for the body and for the mind. Just being present is so difficult.
Your new definition of going deeper reminds me a lot of the body map meditation, except that in this case, the body is not completely relaxed. I can see how doing this in a yoga pose will have many of those same benefits as the body map meditation – bringing one back into the present moment and owning one’s body. As teachers, the subtle changes in the way we cue things can give students completely new experiences (or going deeper) in a familiar pose.
This makes me think of two things; 1) the yoga sutra Stira Sukha Asanam and 2)gross to subtle. The sutra as I understand it means effort without tension and relaxation without dullness. Too much effort/going to deep and tension seeps in, backing away from the depth too much and there is a lack of energy to the pose. If we could apply this to each and every pose in our practice I think we could gradually invite our bodies to go deeper in a very organic way. When we first practice you notice the edges of your body, where you skin and limbs are in space. As we grow our practice the subtler aspects of the pose come out. I often invite my students to find their personal edge and then move with care to a new place. All the while letting their breath be there guide. I am reminded of a quote my teacher often uses, “the quality of your breath is a direct refection of the quality of your practice.” (Kent Bond) If you dive in to a swimming pool without water it is similar to diving into a backbend or a warrior pose with no breath. Too deep has a direct correlation with too little breath or too labored breath.
I can imagine that, for a teacher, it’s tempting to give a blanket instruction like “go deeper,” that can be confusing and even dangerous. Caring about students means addressing individual needs, and when that’s not possible, asking them to explore their own personal limits is an awesome solution. thank you!
I like the idea of going deeper into awareness. I think that for many, yoga has become somewhat of a physical fitness challenge to push the body as far as it will go (often to the breaking point). This is evident by the number of people you hear that have shoulder issues, knee issues, etc that may be linked to their yoga practice. I often watch others during my practice to try to learn from them and see many people who think that the deepest triangle, the hardest arm balance, the sweatiest practice, etc make it a real practice when their posture and body set up indicate that it might be best for them to ‘pull back’ a little on the pose and focus on alignment or drop into child’s pose and refocus the breath.
Great post, and so appropriate! More specificity in instruction is almost always better, especially when working with beginners. Thanks!
I think this is a great article. It is so true, and I have had each of the three reactions to the instruction to “go deeper” at one point or another. I fully support the modification to “go deeper into your awareness.” When we are aware of ourselves, we can bring consciousness to the parts of the body that need it. Sometimes going “deeper” into the pose greatly compromises the integrity of it. However, when we bring awareness, a mindfulness, the pose can only improve and, then, we will find tadasana in vashistasana.
I think there is a big difference of going deeper because you want your heels to touch since the person next to you does, or because of your own free mind. I think some people take that going deeper cue as a way to be competitive as oppose to just letting go and embracing your limits. I have found that when I let go i do end up going deeper. We all just have to listen to our own body!
thanks for the explanation! As a hyper mobile yoga practitioner, i was always instructed to go deeper because i could. That has led me to some strain, stress and pain in other areas of my body. i have been trying to unlearn these tendencies for some time now and am so glad I found yoga tune up!
As a teacher and practitioner of yoga, I am keenly aware of the tendency in myself and others to push beyond and “over the deep end.” We live in such an adrenaline-fueled and overly rajasic culture, wherein we glorify activity, busyness, and the butt-kicking workout over quiet, stillness, and softness. Most students I know have an easier time sweating through endless rounds of sun salutations than they do sitting for meditation or even lying in savasana. A few years ago, in the midst of a divorce and still reeling from the sudden death of my father, I found myself almost mindlessly falling into that cycle of pushing beyond what I would call the present (moment, feeling, experience, reality). I was running all the time, practicing 1.5-2 hours of rigorous daily asana, and eating a strict vegan diet (which is fine, but not considered a “building” diet). In retrospect, I see that everything I was doing was sending my body the message that we were in fact, preparing to run or fight or hide. As a repercussion of that constant fear- and -grief-borne activity, my endocrine system began to shut down. First I lost my periods, and then my thyroid began to fail. For the next two years, I had to get very real and very honest about the ways in which my thoughts/beliefs about not being safe or good enough were creating an inner environment of panic and scarcity. It took time to “go there,” but when I did, I found that the softness was exactly what I needed to settle into–the stillness, the intimate and direct connection to the given reality–what I was ACTUALLY feeling, experiencing. Now, I am even more aware of the tendency of many teachers to indulge an imbalance that so many of us share–we are already too “good” at efforting, forcing, muscling our way, running, hiding, and fighting. Often what we need is simple permission, encouragement, and support to slow down and, as Jill wrote, “to try ‘going deeper’ into [our] awareness.” I think we all too easily forget that our ultimate task in yoga is to be here and now, and totally ok with what that is (vs suffering through resistance or aversion or the desire that it all be something else). And whilst I love to run, sweat, and be challenged by my asana, I think Jill is right that going deeper for many of us may actually mean backing off and looking more honestly and with full consciousness at what lies in the undercurrent of our tendencies. The thoughts are the seeds for our words and actions, and those underlying beliefs, if unconscious, can lead us into a lot of dangerous habits of breath and body. May we all learn that deeper may in fact be “harder” because whatever is driving us to move/fight/muscle through/flee is probably a deep hurt or fear of what IS…and only by creating space for that–the truth of what is in the current moment–will we really have a chance of moving through it. All the rest, including asana done without consciousness–can simply mire us deeper in the very thing we are attempting to flee.
Thank you for this post. I am personally guilty of intentionally spacing out just to get through the pain and avoid the embarrassment of being “that guy” who gets out of the pose before the teacher says to..Also, its another example of how one can over-ride the “fight or flight” response- which im sure may explain my spacing out- without going anywhere. Staying in the moment and simply shifting my focus. I imagine how this could help me in my life off the mat and going forward I genuinely look forward to using this focus-shifting technique. So simple, yet so productive.
I have heard this cue many times and some times the teacher will clarify this instruction by providing different options as to what this cue might mean, but it is still confusing. I like your clarification. You can adduct the muscles toward each other. I have hurt myself in yoga classes many times by pushing past my edge or doing something I didn’t have any business doing. Thanks for creating such an amazing program and teaching it to us.
Thank you for explaining this so well. I have learned the hard way, holding poses and “deepening them” almost to the point of pain, and then holding the pose until the “almost pain” was gone with a warm sensation in the area that I was stretching thinking “wow this must mean a release”. However, after several days of the same practise I DID experience pain, as a result of repeated small tears. So now – as you wrote – I try pracitising the deepening of awareness by doing whatever it takes to keep the integrity of my body and sticking to it whatever my neighbour practitioner is doing. It is not always so easy, I have to admit, but it has helped me to think “I will put beauty into this pose by being present, even if I’m bending the knees and not grabbing my feet” and slowly but surely I have “deepened” my practise.
Good point. Sometimes when you just rest, accepting, non-strivingly in a pose the body can release by itself and you actually go deeper, by not trying to. So just aiming to go deeper in yourself can sometimes give the body the peace it needs to fix the thing itself.
Nice article. i wonder why the teacher would not just explain what they mean — they are a “teacher” right?
Going Deeper is so hard to understand when the body is under stress. In my own practice, I try to balance the focus/distraction by holding poses and giving physical cues to distract and now a term for it… somanauting…that should go in the urban library!
“going deeper” into your awareness never injured any one – I like this twist on the idea of going deeper !