Transitions in yoga, as in life, are hard. When the body is well aligned in a pose, there’s often a sense of ease, as the bones absorb much of your body weight and the muscles support and stabilize you. During transitions, your brain has to figure out the actions, and your muscles have to move your weight from one plane to another. Moving slowly through transitions is more demanding, mentally and physically. But if you always rely on momentum to take you to the next pose, you’ll never build the strength to stop using your momentum. Those moments when your muscles are shaking as you move from Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose) to Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II) are opportunities to create strength and integrity in your body. If you don’t take advantage of them, you’ll strengthen only the already-strong aspects of your practice and skip over the weak ones, leaving yourself ill prepared for new challenges.
Momentum can be risky, too. When you push yourself, you risk missing a cue that your body can’t handle the pose you’re moving into. Or, if you have poor alignment in a transition and you quickly move through it over and over and over (hello again, Chaturanga-Up Dog-Down Dog!), you risk injury. But if you slow down and really pay attention, you give yourself the opportunity to notice what is happening in your body.
Finally, paying attention to your transitions can bring your focus back to the journey instead of the destination. When we rush through transitions, we fool ourselves into thinking that once we arrive somewhere—whether it’s a pose, a classroom, or a life stage—we will pay attention and become present. But this is a fallacy, because presence takes practice. And really, each moment in life is equally important, regardless of what the ego may try to dictate. The third breath in Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose) is not more important than the first step that shifts the body into the pose.
When you tune in to transitional moments, you’ll begin to sense that the whole continuum of your practice—from the time you unroll your mat to the closing “Namaste”—can be a seamless process of paying deep attention to the body, mind, and breath. When you’re able to do this, not only will you get satisfaction from those moments when you get into a big pose, but you’ll also enjoy the quality of your practice as a whole. An observer will be able to see this in your practice—have you ever seen an “advanced” yogi unfurl herself slowly into a beautifully balanced Headstand? Each moment is as defined and nuanced as the next. Focus on the transitions from Virabhadrasana I to Virabhadrasana III, Parsvakonasana to Ardha Chandrasana, and Malasana (Garland Pose) to Bakasana (Crane Pose). Each minisequence moves your body from a relatively stable, accessible pose to a more demanding one that requires balance. They also move you from simple postures to complex postures that are more enticing to the ego. As you practice, observe your thoughts. Are you anxious to get to the harder pose? Bored during the transition? Try to let go of the outcome and tune in to your moment-to-moment awareness.
Practice each transition two to four times. You’ll develop a greater technical understanding of the transitions by moving slowly and meticulously. Gliding seamlessly from pose to pose will generate heat, strength, and mental toughness as you repeat and hone your movements in the spaces between the postures. As you refine these transitions, you’ll not only realize that they are as worthy as the poses themselves, but you may also find that giving them extra attention improves the quality of the postures once you arrive.
Take a moment to feel the effects of this slow transition. Become aware of the sensation in your front thigh, the increased heat in your body, and the demand that has been placed on your breath. Repeat this transition two to three more times and focus on gliding in and out of the postures smoothly. Observe how this practice builds intensity in your body as it simultaneously refines your movements and focuses your mind. Now try the same transition on the other side.
To close your practice reflect on the slow, mindful, and continuous movement you explored in the transitions between the various postures. Now, cultivate the opposite end of the movement spectrum: stillness. To segue from the rhythm of transitions to the quietness of stillness, first settle your body and mind.