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.

A very deep version of uttanasana.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.]

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