Unless you continue to play, all movements—even those that are efficient and integrated—become habitual after a while. So to continue to develop, you need to vary your asana practice and actions. Through continued playful practice, you become more sensitive to yourself and your needs. The yoga teacher or therapist sets up the framework for movement explorations, but you must take the practice off the mat. One of the benefits of yoga in the public studio is that the teacher can help set up a safe framework for you and guide you in your practice. It is important for beginners to have class experience because everything is new.
The average group yoga class consists of a lot of Simon says the style of imitation. Teachers demonstrate that students mimic their poses rather than feel the asana in their own bodies and adapt. This teaching style is helpful in the beginning for visual learners. If the teacher uses undifferentiated movement patterns, it is less helpful for students, who wind up doing the asana in the way that is best for the teacher instead of for their own bodies. Meaningful movements for your own longevity must be refined from your own kinesthetic intelligence.
It takes time, effort, and attention to increase this perception and responsiveness, which ultimately leads to payoff for growth, health, and movement patterns. Conversely, if you do not take the time to create variety, you won’t progress long-term in your skills and activities. If going to class or imitating what you did in class is all you do, then you will once again fall into a habitual movement pattern that will prevent progress in your skills and activities.
The nervous system needs the juice of new puzzles. This does not mean that you have to challenge yourself every day. Some days you need to return to familiar practice for physical, emotional, or spiritual reasons. It takes discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadhyaya) to know when to challenge the nervous system and when to let the neurons wire together a bit tighter by repeating the same movement or practice. At some point, you will hit a plateau in your skills and enthusiasm. Your movement patterns will only take you so far in a sport or in life.
Yoga, with its combination of strength, mobility, and nervous system challenges, will help you develop movement pattern options that can make you more efficient and successful in your activities. You may notice that you are avoiding new situations and challenges. You have become too comfortable, and the nervous system rests and enjoys it. This is the time to mix things up and play with movement patterns again through yoga therapy. Whether or not you are an athlete, you need to challenge yourself to explore your internal and external environments so that you don’t live on autopilot; rather, live life to its fullest.
Movement Habits and Injuries
Repetitive strain injuries occur frequently these days. Whether it is from office work, texting, playing tennis, running, or any other repetitive motion, modern medicine has not been able to find a way to prevent these injuries. Chapter 7 looks more specifically into a variety of injuries and how to prevent them, as well as precautions, contraindications, and ideas for rehabilitation. This section looks at repetitive injuries in general and the role habitual movement patterns might play. Close your eyes and listen to the phrase repetitive strain injury. It sure sounds like an injury that is caused by a habitual movement. A repetitive strain injury (RSI) is caused by performing the same movement over and over again.
More and more injured people are turning to yoga to deal with their aches and pains. Even though there is not a lot of research on the effectiveness of yoga for RSI, it appears that asana practice is a beneficial way to deal with these kinds of injuries.