Why should I Counter my Pose?

Written by: Anupam Raman

If you have taken a yoga class, likely it was some form of Vinyasa. Vinyasa is one of many styles of postural yoga that exist and it seems that it’s the most popular version that is taught whether in a group class or a Yoga Teacher Training. Therefore, it is helpful to really dissect the meaning of the word to give focus and purpose to the idea of a counter pose and your class sequencing. Vinyasa breaks down into two parts in Sanskrit— vi meaning “in a special way” and nyasa meaning “to place.” Which begs the question, what does “special” really mean here?

A vinyasa is a progressive and evolutionary sequence, swhich unfolds with a purpose in mind, some intelligence to the sequencing that results in mind and body harmony. So, the “special” here refers to the intention behind the sequence. This is where the logic of each of the choices in posture can create the inherent feeling of natural balance from the experience.

Looking at a sequence in this way helps us understand why we feel so great after some classes, and off or on edge after others. To understand the pose and counter pose idea, let us break down a traditional Sun Salutation.

Inhaling your arms up overhead into high Anjali mudra extends the back and spine, even to a slight back bend. Following this we exhale into a forward fold, hinging at the waist and flexing the spine – thereby countering the extension. Inhale to a neutral spine (flat back) reverses the flexion on the previous pose, but also allows us to engage our core muscles to jump back into Chaturanga Dandasana on an exhale. We counter that with the Urdhva Mukha Svanasana or upward facing dog, the spine is in extension. Finally we move to Adho mukha svanasana or downward facing dog, countering the extension with flexion.

If we look closely, we see the balance and thought put into this Vinyasa. Each counter pose relieves any tension from the previous asana, while the positive effects remain. The counter poses are symmetrical, and as accessible as the previous pose (or have a modification that makes it accessible.). The pose and counter pose dynamically occurs on the same plane or transitions nicely to the next asana in this sun salutation. Also, we see the pose is held for an equal amount of time to the previous pose, not longer – although a counter can be held for less time in a static postural practice. The end result should be that the practitioner feels balanced and breath and body are in harmony. So next time you are practicing whether on your own or in a group class, don’t miss out on your counter pose!