Is this yoga the right level for you? The secret ways your body tells you

Oct 21, 2011, 10:09 a.m.

Here’s a secret your yoga instructor already knows: Your body is constantly advertising whether you’re working at a level that’s right for you. Here are five ways to decode those hidden messages for yourself:

  1. Pain or extreme discomfort: This seems to be the most obvious signal, but it bears repeating because we tend to ignore it, and we continue to push ourselves to the brink of injury. A distinct stretch sensation or mild fatigue is OK and should not be taken seriously, but always listen to your body's discomfort and don't force yourself further. Take the hint and rest on your mat for a few minutes.
  2. Tense neck and shoulders: Your body’s first response when stretching is often to tense the neck and shoulder muscles. If you’re able to hold the pose and gradually relax those muscles, you’re probably working within your comfort zone. But if you just can’t relax them no matter how much you try, either skip the pose or choose a gentler option until you build that capacity.
  3. Labored breaths: For a seasoned yoga instructor, one of the key indicators of whether you're working at the client’s appropriate level is listening to his breath. Your breathing should remain even and smooth. When you’re holding your breath or otherwise breathing in a way that’s very labored, it’s a sign you need to dial things down a notch (or three).
  4. Your facial expression: Some call it “The Cringe.” Your face doesn’t lie, and if you notice you’re wincing, scowling or, yes, cringing, your body is trying to shout—to you and everyone around you— “Don’t be fooled! She’s in over her head with this pose!” Listen to your body, and seek the level of intensity that keeps your face relaxed or smiling.
  5. Body distortions: Finally, strive for good technique, even if means choosing a modification. A common mistake, for example, is for yogis to reach the floor with their hands flat, even though they can only do so by bending their knees and rounding their backs, when the pose calls for straight legs and an even back. If you’re distorting your body to achieve what you perceive to a more advanced version of a pose, you could be missing out entirely on the benefit of the pose, and worse, putting your body at risk!

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