Counter-Poses in Yoga

I’ve been exploring counter poses more in my own yoga practice. In Thai Yoga Massage, we’ve studied how effective release can be with stretching and compression of antagonistic muscles. It is a great way to inhibit the stretch-reflex response.

One example:
I’m a yoga teacher, but I also do Crossfit and other things. So its a 2 steps forward, one step back kind of battle for me. But its another reason how counter poses are effective. Lizard pose (Uttana Pristhasana) feels good to me when I am very warmed up. But when I’m cold or sore, its not something very accessible. I try to enter with lower expectations the first time. I may hold for 2 or 3 breaths. Then I straighten my leg into a half-split. This isn’t a direct antagonist, but it feels like one. Then, after a few breaths, I ease back into Lizard. This time, I can go much deeper. I hold for only 2 or 3 breaths and transition back to half-splits. Each time, I feel myself going deeper.

For all the old-school bodybuilding fans who did supersets, you know what I mean. The best combos were:
leg extension – leg curl
biceps barbell curl – triceps extensions
barbell rows – bench press

These are classic push – pull and flexion – extension exercises. But you can do the same with yoga. Inherently, Ashtanga Yoga uses some of these principles. A sun salutation and other vinyasa poses do an inhale opening and exhale closing. But instead of holding for the full 5 breaths right away, I may deliberately transition to and from the counter pose. To me, its the most effect use of time and energy.

Try flowing into counter poses and see how it works for you.

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