Okay, I will admit it. I was one of the masses who bounced in front of my TV in the early 80s to Jane Fonda's original workout. A short stint of cardio, quite a bit of "feeling the burn," and an odd desire to wear leg warmers while "working out."
It brings a smile, doesn't it?
Now you may be wondering what the heck does this have to do with yoga, or with anatomy, or even with the year 2006 (it has been more than 20 years since Jane's inaugural video)?
Jane was the leader of many who motivated people to be their best with expressions such as "make it burn," "no pain, no gain," "come on, a little higher," and "you can do more." As time went on, those lines became part of our thought consciousness.
Enter the 90s, when people started to look for something a little gentler, whole body and mind, more fluid with a little less pounding and pushing. Yoga became mainstream, but the thought patterns remained the same.
Which is why I have been telling people to let Jane go. To let go of the effort, to not try so hard. It doesn't matter which asana they are practicing it could be Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose) or Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior Pose 2) or Raja Kapotasana (King Pigeon Pose) or something as simple as Viparita Karani (Legs Up the Wall) or even not contracting so hard in mula bandha (the root lock).
When people "let go of Jane" something happens both physically and mentally:
- Physically, their breathing is better, their bodies relax, and their soft tissues relax. When tight muscles relax, they have greater strength.
- They end up going further into the asana with greater ease, feeling, and awareness. This "going further" often happens quite quickly, in a matter of minutes. They go deeper into Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), their hips release to enable Padmasana (Lotus Pose), their relaxation enables the strength in Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand).
- Mentally, they aren't as hard on themselves. They have greater acceptance of where they are at. They let go of attachment.
- They fully experience that when they let go, they actually go further.
How to do this in your practice, or if you are a teacher, with your students:
- Relax into your movement. If you think about relaxing as a segue to movement, you will automatically "let go." As you continue to move with relaxation, your strength will improve. Remember, tight muscles are weak muscles, so as tight muscles relax, they will become stronger.
- Breathe easily. Notice if there is any tension when you use breathing techniques like in Ujjayi. If there is, be sure to find the ease.
- If you feel strain or ache, ease out to a position of no strain or ache; wait for the myriad of sensations, the nonpain sensations that are there for you to experience.
- Don't believe that your "bad back" or "bad knee" will be like that forever. I have seen so many people increase their range of motion, strength, and stability while at the same time eliminate their aches, strains, or pain.
- Remember, relaxing is not doing nothing. You can be absolutely relaxed while in the most challenging of yoga asanas.
- Instead of saying to yourself, "Ooooh, a little further," say, "Relax just a little more."
Now there is one downside to this kind of practice especially for the type-A personalities, the driven and motivated individuals in the crowd:
The downside to this practice is you will "feel." And that may be experienced as a waste of time (particularly if you have a sun salutation to get through, or headstand to accomplish). However, if you can stick it out for 2 minutes, or 20 minutes, you will experience something amazing.