What is the intended benefit of the pose?

This is a question you will hear from me a lot if you take a teacher training with me.

Is this something you are thinking about when you are practicing and teaching? I encourage you to! And the question is not, “What did my teacher say is the intended benefit of the pose?” or, “What does Light on Yoga say is the intended benefit of the pose?”

Those questions are also useful and important, and are a good place to start your investigation, but I am interested in empowering you to ask deeper questions.

One of my highest intentions as a teacher’s teacher is to empower you to to trust your own physical experience and to teach your students to do that as well.

The question is, “What benefit do I experience in this pose? Do I think that is a common experience? What other benefits do my fellow teachers and students receive from this pose? When I ask a student to do this pose, what benefit do I hope they receive?”

Getting to know ourselves and learning to trust ourselves is a wildly powerful teaching, and the physical body is a fantastic place to begin that work.

Also, on a practical level, when you have specific ideas about the benefits you intend for your students to receive, you can create highly personalized sessions for them.

And, {I think}  it is of the utmost importance that you create sessions that address the specific physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of your students. {Tweet it!}

To be able to create the session that’s most useful for your student, you must gather information about what they are experiencing so you can make adjustments.

Physical sensation is going to come up for your students that doesn’t make any sense to you.

This could mean a variety of situations:

  • pain or discomfort in an area of the body that you wouldn’t expect
  • trouble doing a pose for no obvious reason
  • zero sensation in a pose you think should be very sensational for them

I encourage you to stay with this opportunity. Don’t walk away from it. Be curious about it.  Investigate with your student… “hmmm, I wonder why you’re having that experience?  Let’s try to figure it out.”  Doing this is really beneficial because it helps them be more interested and engaged in their own experience.  It gives the two of you a project to work on together and you will help you bond. Investigating deeply into your student’s experience will help them feel seen,  nurtured, and taken care of by you.

Now, let me say:: You definitely don’t have to know all the answers.  You can’t.

The more anatomy you have studied, the more comfortable you will be going down this path.  But you can’t know everything and you certainly can’t know why every client is having bizarre experiences that you don’t understand.  People have all kinds of strange patterns and habits in their body and the only way to figure out what to do is by experimenting together.  “Well, does it change when you do this?  Does it change if you engage and press your foot down towards the floor?  Does that make it any different?”

There are some yoga traditions that teach asana in very broad strokes, as if the application is the same for everyone.  You’ll hear those teachers say, “When you do this, then this happens.”  So it’s like “when you engage this way, then your pelvis tilts forward”.  But in reality…It doesn’t.  It doesn’t for everybody.

You should not try to tell your student the experience they are having.  If your student says, “I feel it here…” then they feel it there. You have to trust them on that, and make a shift if necessary.

When you have an idea of the experience you intend for your students to have in a pose, you will have some ideas about how to create shifts so they get the intended benefit.

This is not to say there must be a highly specific benefit for every single pose. There is definitely value in saying, “just be where you are”.

You don’t have to design the whole session so that every pose has a really specific benefit.  You can have some general ideas of what experience you would like for them to have and if they’re having an experience that’s opposite of what you would generally hope for, that’s when you do something different.

Let’s have an example: What do you think are the intended benefits of Anjaneyasana {Crescent Lunge} with the back knee down?


12 Responses to “What is the intended benefit of the pose?”

  1. Karen Donelson

    I love this pose, first because the legs are asymmetrical which heightens and provokes us to pay more attention. For the body to find its alignment and then stillness before the movement I think is key. Through finding the appropriate cues for grounding down and out from the pelvis to the legs we are given the ability to open freely up and out. Setting and finding our internal boundaries gives us freedom.

    • Francesca Cervero

      Oh Karen! It is always so great to hear from you! What a powerful way of looking at this pose…. <3

  2. Tom

    Anjaneyasana is such a great pose. It is a simple pose that is simultaneously grounding and energizing. Physically, I focus on the feeling the hip opening in the front leg, the stretch in the hip flexors of the back leg, and the stretch in lats and the ribs. Mentally, there is a slight balance challenge. Spiritually, I love the heart opening as I reach up and look up. Possibly more than any other pose, Anjaneyasana makes me feel like I am firmly grounded while reaching out for connection to the universe.

    • Francesca Cervero

      Ah, this is so beautiful Tom. This is a special pose, in the way it embodies both deep grounding and expressive opening, isn’t it? Thank you for your thoughts here 🙂

  3. Natalie

    Coming from a powerful practice, placing a knee down gives me a moment to pause and delve deeper, softly. I love how as the hips travel forward points of alignment become more intense for me. Keeping the shoulders over the hips and lower core solid, resisting that urge to lean forward in the torso reminds me not to get ahead of myself. Having tightness in the crease of my hips makes this pose one of patience, waiting for an invitation from the body to go deeper instead of pushing through. Thank you for the prompt, this is a wonderful idea to ponder.

    • Francesca Cervero

      This is fantastic Natalie! There is so much to gain from this pose, both physically and emotionally, isn’t there? You are most welcome for the prompt, and thank you for this lovely reply.

  4. Elaine

    Grounding through strong legs into the floor while feeling lightness in upper body as you extend up towards the sky. Opening through the plantar fascia and hip flexor in the back leg. Opening through the chest as arms reach up.

  5. Yana

    Hey Francesca,

    Firstly let me send you some gratitude. I loved this email/post so much because it touches on the specific intention and skill-set that I’ve been working to develop as a teacher – and it also reminds me that yes, it is important and worth putting energy into. Because – it really does take energy and commitment to teach this way. Feels good to read it.

    I believe that a single pose can have a variety of uses. For example, when I’m doing Anjaneyasana I’m usually focusing on releasing through the hip flexors and becoming really centered in my spine so that I can eventually take as deep a backbend as feels appropriate. I take the pose as a gesture of openness. However, for many of my students, I use it as a pose that provides a lot of support (hands on the ground or on blocks) which makes them feel safe enough to work into the hip flexors exclusively. So, it becomes more a pose of support and safety.

    Thank you for your work.
    xx y

    • Francesca Cervero

      Oh you are so so welcome Yana! Yes, this is a subtle and sometimes challenging skill set we are talking about here, and I certainly believe it is worth putting time and energy into 🙂 Thank you for your thoughts. Your students are lucky to have you as a teacher.

  6. janie ganga

    Re-reading this for the 2nd or 3rd time — and more layers of a-ha! and Yes! are coming through. This methodology of staying curious is so powerful! I often prompt students: “Can you tell me a little more about what you’re feeling?” And sometimes they are at a loss… I’ll practice remembering to give them options more frequently — even short ones like “Achy or pinchy?” — increases their own confidence in what they’re feeling. Thank you for all of these fabulous resources and reminders, Francesca!

    • Francesca Cervero

      You’re so welcome Janie! And you’ve totally got it. Pinchy or achy is an awesome example. <3


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