Thinking about little yogini’s comment regarding tips for young practitioners, I realized that probably the biggest challenge for younger ones is their ability to stay in a pose, mostly because of shorter attention spans. And as every parent and teacher knows, building attention spans is easier said than done. Fortunately, yoga is an excellent way to develop endurance on many levels: physical, emotional, mental. This holds true whether you are 5 or 85!
Typically in a yoga class, the teacher demonstrates the pose, then the class follows along. As soon as discomfort is felt, the practitioner pops out–at least beginning students often work this way. Pretty much the same thing happens in our home practice as far as jumping out of the pose goes and at home we don’t even have the “vibe” of the class holding us longer in the pose, so we may hold for even shorter periods.
However, in order to build focus and concentration, it is important to work on endurance. Please note, I am NOT talking about crossing your edge and working in unsafe and harmful ways. I mean pushing your edge a bit to see where your safe limits are. Please see my page: . Also see Chapter 8 of Schiffmann’s Yoga, The Spirit of Moving Into Stillness.
When we think of endurance, we usually think of mental endurance, which would be developing our attention span. It’s tough to be mindful if we can’t keep our mind on a given task long enough. The wild elephant, or herd of elephants, needs to stand still so it can figure out what is happening. We need to “grow” our attention and this can happen in hatha yoga practice, sitting meditation, breathwork, as well as everyday tasks.
When my mind enters wanderlust mode, I think of B.K.S.Iyengar’s questions about body intelligence. I ask myself, “What is the intelligence of my toes now, in this pose? Can I feel them? How are they contributing to the pose or are they hindering the pose? Are they working at their full potential?” These questions can be posed about any body part. While I go through arms, legs, chest, etc. I can, at some point, begin to observe what I am holding in my consciousness and ask myself if I can simultaneously hold all of the aspects of my self at the same time. Teachers can repeat this process for the class, asking the students where their intelligence is, what body part is holding their attention, calling them to focus on a specific area, and then challenging them to hold several areas in their minds at once. This could become a game for a class of young ones or any students who are getting bored. I have found it a great way to keep myself interested in practicing. The pose stays fresh this way.
A second challenge for building endurance is the emotional self. We need to kindly invite longer stays without adding negativities, such as guilt, or berating ourselves. We need to honor ourselves when the inevitable days come when we are tired or depressed or jittery and simply need restorative work, not building our endurance. But when we are feeling as if we could hold ourselves longer, the breath is a wonderful tool to use in asana practice as well as it is for developing emotional equanimity in other areas. When you have reached the point when you feel you should begin coming out of the pose, try extending for two more soft breaths. Doesn’t sound like much, I know, but trust me, it sure is! You’ll be amazed, I think, at how you can slowly build your endurance this way.
The final area I’ll discuss is the most obvious. Muscles. They grow fatigued and weak. They shake and shimmy. But just as we need to welcome the difficult parts of our lives as our most precious teachers, we need to welcome our weak muscles as a part of ourselves. We shouldn’t run away from them. We need to be with them, letting them move us into discomfort. This also aids the stretch muscles receive. Bigger muscles particularly need longer “stays” in a stretch. We can again use the breath and send it to the tightest area, or whatever area of the body is barring a deeper pose. Invite softness in the hard, constricted areas. Invite opening in your mind as well as in your body.
Readers, I’d love to hear your experiences and challenges with practicing or teaching endurance.