Perhaps you’ve heard of the Goldilocks principle, or at the very least, you’ve read the children’s story and can figure out what it means. Goldilocks chose the porridge that was just right - not too hot, not too cold.
Applications of this principle are seen in a wide variety of disciplines, like biology and economics, but how do we apply it to a yoga practice?
Well, if you’re anything like me, a type-A perfectionist, it can be tricky. I’ve learned the hard way by injuring myself, always tending on the “too hot” side, so that’s why I urge my students to try to find the right balance.
So how can you tell?
When I walk around during my classes while students are holding a particular stretch or pose, “too hot” looks like this: breath is too fast or being held, jaw is clenched, brow is furrowed, shoulders are scrunched up by the ears. “Too cold” could be described as “wet noodle” limbs (arms or legs not fully extended or engaged), flopping from one pose to another, over-shortening stance, un-focused gaze, chewing gum during practice. (What?!)
If you’re always “too cold,” you probably won’t injure yourself, but you probably won’t get a whole lot out of your practice, either. If you’re not feeling like you’re doing anything during a pose, well, then you’re not! Engage those legs, extend the arms, focus your gaze, and work!
If you’re always “too hot,” you’ve probably experienced more progression in your practice, but you may end up hurting yourself, if you haven’t already. Our goal in each pose is to find steadiness and ease (sthira and sukha), not pain, strain, or forcing. Back off a little, slow your breath down, soften the muscles in your face, and allow your body to relax into the pose. That might even mean modifying or using a prop. (Gasp!)
So now I’ll show you three different versions of a pose, too hot, too cold, and just right. But remember that your “just right” may not look the same as mine, because all bodies are different.
Here's my "too hot" version of boat post, navasana. I simply must straighten my legs all the way no matter if I'm leaning too far back, and my arms must extend out of my shoulder joints, and I must purse my lips because I'm concentrating really hard!
In my "too cold" version, I'm just sitting there, nothing engaged. Meh.
And now for "just right." I'm sitting tall and engaged while keeping my shoulders back. I'm working, but also feeling calm.
So next time you're holding a pose in class, remember the Goldilocks principle to find your "just right" amount of effort and ease.