Going Deeper Into a Pose? Or Going Off the Deep End?

Jill Miller by Jill Miller | October 5th, 2011 | 4 Comments
topic: Fitness, Yoga

Jill Miller Standing Forward Fold

Going VERY deep into Uttanasana, a.k.a. Standing Forward Bend

Have you ever wondered what your yoga teacher means when she instructs you to “go deeper into the pose?” What exactly does this cue mean? Let’s say you’ve been holding the pose for a while, and are already shaking and trembling. Then instead of calling out a new pose, your teacher calls out “drop deeper into the pose!” You summon the courage to try it … but you aren’t exactly sure how, or what component of the pose needs further deepening.

As a teacher and a teacher trainer with more than 25 years of experience, I have seen my fair share of confused yoga students interpreting this cue in myriad ways:

  • Some will push into their flexibility edge, attempting to deepen a bend in a joint here or there.
  • Other students might use excessive force and over-exert to maintain a pose at a depth of position that may be unsuitable for their structure.
  • Still other students will shut their eyes and travel to a place of psychic or imagined depth, recognizing that the cue “go deeper” may also be synonymous with “hold the pose longer. Much longer.” And they “space out” in order to “get through it.”

Is “going deeper” into a pose always the best cue?

Looking at the “go deeper” interpretations above, let’s reason with them in depth.

  1. Going physically deeper into a pose is not always the best option. For one, your body might already be at its legitimate “edge,” so you may not be able fold or bend deeper into the pose without damaging some tissues.
  2. Attempting to muscle your way through a long hold with poor alignment can render your muscles listless, exhausted or even too injured for the next poses in your lesson.
  3. Mental and physical fatigue can push you into instability both physically and mentally. When “going deeper” means you’ve become un-present and your mind has vacated the premises of your own body, it may be time to metaphorically “go into shallow water” so that you can get your feet back on the ground.

A new definition of  “going deeper”

So rather than risking a strained muscle from over-stretching, drowning in a pool of sweat from overdoing it, or zoning out during our practice, we can repurpose “go deeper” to make it meaningful and specific every time we hear it.

Jill Miller Side Bend

Develop a penetrating inner gaze to expand and deepen awareness of your practice.

Why not try “going deeper” into your awareness? What I mean by this is to develop a penetrating inner gaze. Cycle your mind through every aspect of what you are currently aware of, and become both a participant and an observer to your practice. When you deepen your awareness, you will become richly present with the sensations in your joints, soft tissues, heart and mind and be able to make choices within the context of your practice. You develop a keen sense of proprioception, knowing exactly where all the parts of your body are in the moment. My anatomy mentor Gil Hedley refers to this as being a somanaut, a word he coined to describe one who navigates the inner space of the body.

Deepening your awareness will bring more intelligence to your practice and provide you with the specific information that will improve your connection to all parts of yourself. Practicing awareness will also deepen your relationship to your behavior in the world off the mat.

May your awareness expand upon itself and sustain your depth of practice.

I bow deeply, Namaste.

Work out with Jill on our streaming video site, Gaiam TV!


  1. I love this, and I love “going deeper” via the breath, not by pushing, but like you said, tuning in on a deeper level. There is so much to explore inside the body (I totally agree with Gil). So many people have a major disconnect between their brains and their bodies and “listen” to their bodies from the ear of the ego rather than tuning in with an internal antenna of the heart! Thanks for highlighting this in your article.


    P.S. I love your short video clips!!!! I hope to meet you someday.

    Jill Lawson | October 5th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  2. Very insightful. The somanaut concept was very interesting. I like the idea of “going deeper” to mean a further exploration of the interior space, rather than pushing the physical edge of a posture.

    Jonathan | October 23rd, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  3. A deeper consideration of what it means to go deeper. It’s an important subject for the yoga community at large, and an important reminder to yoga teachers to give more context around what they mean when they say it. My personal experience with poses is that sometimes going deeper has less to do with the physical and more to do with the spiritual/emotional bodies, creating more eloquent definitions of what it means to be fully alive/awake in a pose.

    kbutera | April 28th, 2012 | Comment Permalink
  4. [...] Although paying attention to your breath can give you a lot of information about whether you are straining or stressing your body to get into a pose, it’s not the only dashboard you should be checking. Over my 28+ years of yoga practice and teaching, I have come to the conclusion that deep and powerful breathing is not necessarily a reliable indicator of whether you’ve blown past a range. [...]

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