Pose and Counter Pose in Yoga

In yoga there are poses and counter poses that are designed to work together. We move our body one way and then can move in an opposing neutralizing shaping to calm the body and nervous system. One example of this is when we do a back bending posture; afterwards, we will often want to move into a forward bend shaping to counterbalance the pose. This is because backbends can be stimulating to the body, squeezing the organs in the opposite direction than usual and the pose utilizes completely different muscle groups than our normal day-to-day activities require. This is why we often want to reverse the sensations created with a counter pose.

Depending on the degree of sensations in the body, after strong backbends, we may need to transition slowly into a counter pose. We can do Bhujangasana (Cobra) and then rest on the belly, let the heels fall outwards and rest the head. The next slow progression is to come into a tabletop position on all fours, feeling a flat neutral spine all the way to the neck. From here gently exhale into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), and lengthen through the spine. By stretching the muscles of the spine, the pose helps to support the spine evenly and safely. Now you move into a relaxing and reinvigorating Balasana (Child’s Pose). Relax completely in this full counter pose to Cobra.

This process of utilizing poses and counter poses ensures the spine and pelvis remains balanced and provides space in the bursa sacs between the bones of joints. The action of many yoga postures squeezes the synovial fluid sacs in diverse ways to keep them healthy and evenly saturated. Additionally, these movements or postures help to release toxins stored in the joints. Finding space between the joints in uncommon shapings and then add in the corresponding counter pose, helps to cleanse and remove toxins from the body.

Another way we can counter a pose is to reverse the exertion required for an Asana (body position)). An example is when doing any pose that generates heat, physical or emotional, in the body; we may want to lower our head and heart. At any point during a yoga session or practice, you can stop and move into Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog), Savasana (Corps pose), Balasana (Child’s Pose), or Viparita Karani Mudra (Reverse posture Mudra). These four poses are all potentially calming to the nervous system after the more invigorating heat generating poses.

When we feel over-stimulated, it makes the other poses seem more challenging and it may become more difficult to find the calming effortlessness of a pose. Counter poses help neutralize a trying or pushing attitude and you can return to the beginner mind again and approach the poses more gently. Taking deep breaths in the counter pose will sharpen your concentration and allow the body to settle deeper into the pose.

Breath is a powerful tool and an integral part of the your practice. Notice how even the breathing corresponds to the pose and counter poses with inhaling and then exhaling. The inhalation expands and the exhale contracts and grounds the mind and the body.

We are constantly working with Yin and Yang in breathing,  physical movements and through shifting  emotions during our yoga experience. Remember to pay attention and remain mindful during our practice, as our heightened concentration will help to discern our need for the pose or for the counter pose.

The concept of poses and counter poses is also applicable in our daily life. When we go around holding the world up in our body, eventually something needs to give. Imagine the exertion of standing and holding your body upright for a minute. It may be quite easy for that time, but now imagine standing for five minutes. The exertion quickly begins to be felt. Now imagining standing for one hour and even an entire day. Standing in one place using the same muscles will definitely start to generate fatigue and tension, besides being quite boring and creating restlessness in the mind. We would need, and want, to rest and relax our over-worked muscles and calm our over-stimulated mind.

We hold our muscles and stress in the body in repetitive ways that need to be released.  The stress we carry is not only physical; we also have repetitive worry or distractions that fatigue us as well. Take time each day to counter balance your tension and stress, perhaps several times a day if time allows. Simply remember to breath deeply to clear tension or find a quiet place to mediate or take a short nap as part of your daily routine.

When we nap or meditate daily, it is comparable to a physiological and spiritual battery charging time. We certainly would not over run our car if it starts to smoke and sputter nor would we expect a light bulb to continue to work after it had burnt out. By the same token, it is unreasonable to expect our bodies, minds and spirits to carry on without sufficient fuel and rest. Take the time to find the appropriate battery charging counter pose for your body and life and approach it with mindful breath and gratitude.