It’s tempting to look around the room during poses that require a lot of stretching, comparing your flexibility to that of other practitioners. It’s also tempting to try to go further into a stretch than your body is ready for in order to bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be. The result is not enjoying the experience very much due to the shooting pain and you also increase your risk of injury.
You want all of your associations with yoga to be positive because this will make the behavior of showing up to the studio on a consistent basis much more likely. When we talk about positive reinforcement what we mean is anything the organism wants, given at or around the time of a behavior, that makes that behavior more likely to occur in the future. Letting your body feel really good during a stretch is the definition of a positive reinforcement as long as you can let go of the judgment that you’re not far enough along. And of course we are not talking about taking it easy during a session or during a stretch, only refusing to let your ego, with all of its false pride, get in the way of your growth by making you think you’re not where you’re supposed to be right now. If you go just deeply enough into a stretch that you definitely feel it but it still feels really good, you’ll be moving your body’s flexibility along but in a way that is joyful and pleasant, which will make you want to come back for more.
When most people contemplate exercise it’s all negative associations. They dread going, which is probably why so many don’t stick with it. Some come to appreciate the results enough that they keep at it but they certainly don’t enjoy the experience. In yoga you have the chance to get the best of both worlds, loving not just the results of your practice but also your practice itself. A great area to make this ideal a reality is by consciously remembering to make all your stretches feel really good.