Starting a yoga practice can be well, weird. Walking in to a class with thirty other people who seem to know exactly what is going on is intimidating. Compounding this is a teacher directing you into shapes and poses that feel entirely alien, while asking you to stay…calm?! And …breathe?!
The first few yoga classes can feel strange. The physical body, energetic body, and the mind are going places they never have before (hmm maybe this is other wordly). With so much new sensation and stimulation in muscles and joints, how do you know if you’re teetering on the ledge of injury?
For someone new to stretching, where is the line between pain and sensation?
This question came up in my class yesterday, and there is a simple answer: calm eyes and a soft smile.
When a yoga teacher instructs, “soften the face” or “turn up the corners of the mouth and relax the eyebrows,” this is not just to look pretty.
Pain has a very clear expression. When we experience physical and even emotional feelings that induce ache, the brow furrows, the jaw tenses and the eyes widen. A soft gaze, slight smile and space between the eyebrows means that a practitioner is still breathing.
If you are practicing yoga at your own comfortable, personal edge, you should be able to relax your face and gaze. Grinding teeth, flaring the nostrils, or squinting suggests that you might be working too hard. Back off, this could lead to injury. Grinning from ear to ear probably means you are not pushing yourself enough.
As a Buddhist would say, take the middle path. Check in with your facial expression frequently during your practice. When you experience a novel sensation, ask yourself, Are my facial muscles at ease?
If yes, hold and maybe go a little deeper in to the posture, if not, do less or ask your instructor for a modification.