Have you ever tried (or listened to someone) playing a new piece of music at full speed?
Even if the tune is well known and the performer is experienced, this scenario will result in disaster: not only is the integrity of the music compromised, but muscles are learning to perform erratically and inaccurately. Add repetition to this process and injury is likely to occur. The same is true when trying to practice a yoga pose or sequence without having properly trained your body to approach the asanas with integrity.
If you have ever studied piano (or any instrument), you have used a metronome to help guide your practice sessions. At first, the slower tempo seems to mock and plod while you struggle to play passages clearly, but as you refine these slower movements into your hands, your muscles learn the patterns and you gradually increase the tempo. When you practice the same piece the next day, you will likely need to start slowly again, but you will find it takes less time to reach a faster tempo.
“This process may seem daunting, but the result is muscles that are trained to perform with strength and precision.
Since the speed at which you approach a movement has a direct effect on how your muscles react, I use my yoga practice to slow down and refine how my body is moving towards and functioning within these different shapes.
“As strength builds, the movements gradually become smoother and more precise, but my goal remains to condition my body through steady motions.
Try this plank exercise with a block:
Start on all fours with a long spine and place a block on your sacrum. Press more weight into your knuckles and fingertips than your wrists, and maintain straight arms. Step back to a plank position with your feet out to the sides of your mat.
Without rocking your pelvis side to side (and dropping the block off your back), use a full exhalation to hover your right hand off the floor and a full inhalation to calmly place it back down. Switch sides. (Note: as the right-hand lifts, your right leg will bear more weight on the floor.)
After a few repetitions, tap your right hand to your left shoulder and lower slowly to switch hands. Focus on maintaining a steady pelvis.
Want more of a challenge?
Pick up your right hand and quietly lower your right forearm to the floor, then do the same with your left forearm. From this low plank, press your right hand into the floor, then press your left hand down to come back to high plank. Switch sides. Keep breathing smoothly so you can match your movements to your breath.
“This focus on steady strength is what I love most about my yoga practice; I am able to train differently than other exercises while building techniques that inform practices off my yoga mat.