The Power of Transitions, On and Off the Mat
When I’m teaching, I like to remind my students that one of the times they’re most likely to get injured in yoga is in the transition between poses. Why?
Because they’re less likely to be paying attention.
It’s eas(ier) to get all kinds of focused during a pose. Turn the foot here, align the knee there, move with the breath, elongate the spine. Depending on the type of class you take, the instructions alone could completely occupy your mind during a pose.
But once it’s over?
Once it’s over, we’re often ready to move on. Even if the teacher gives instructions for coming out safely, we may not be listening—at least not in the same way we were just a moment before.
It’s hard to stay mindful—really hard. We think we need to give all we can in the poses, and then we need a break from that sustained mental and physical energy. We know we have to store up all we can before going onto the next pose.
It's a feast/famine mentality in a lot of ways—I will give everything I can for these three breaths and then I need it all back for me.
It certainly does to me. In my life, this has been the mentality of overwork as well as avoiding my feelings. I’ve been getting better about this, but in the past, I’ve given everything to my work—all of my energy, all of my concentration, lots of my health and much of my relationships.
And what happens?
Predictably, the same cycle as above—work really hard for a couple years then completely burn out. Gotta go. Catcha later (never).
The same is true if I’m avoiding a particular feeling. Rather than feeling angry, sad, discontent, etc., I’ll just skip it and move onto something else. This action lulls me into a false sense of safety: “Whew! I got through that unscathed!”
Little did I know.
What I Forgot
In those overwork/burnout cycles, I forgot the transitions—the daily transitions that would allow me to set a less harried pace, as well as things like building in time for a learning curve. Allowing natural rest times to come after more intense projects.
In my rush to skip over them, I got hurt. I resented my job. I doubted my abilities.
And of course, this also happens when I skip over feelings. Hmm … where did this unknown migraine come from? Or why do I suddenly have to spend a whole day in bed? Or why am I wildly overreacting to this conversation?
My body is going to feel those feelings. It’s just a matter of how hard I’m going to make it—allowing them to surface organically and move through or fighting them and them pinning me to the ground—sometimes literally.
This is why transitions are becoming sacred to me. I’m learning to build in time to rest between projects, to feel my feelings as soon as I’m able (which is not always immediately, but surely sooner than it used to be).
There’s something exquisite about paying attention to the transitions—in life, in the ever-changing seasons around us and in asana (none of which are that different, after all). Because paying attention to the transitions forces you (in a good way) to become more present to your life.
And that’s why we do this whole yoga thing, right?