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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

The Power of the Pause

Mar 01, 2022 06:00AM ● By Mila Burgess
Querencia is a metaphysical concept in Spanish that, loosely translated, refers to “home base,” the place from which one draws strength and where one feels safe and able to connect with one’s authentic self. The concept is most often used in reference to bullfighting. A bull will find a location in the ring that he uses to reset. Any time he returns to that place, he pauses and gets still. In that momentary pause in his querencia, the bull feels safe and gathers his strength. 

It is the matador’s job to identify the location of the bull’s querencia and try to keep it out of that spot. Matadors won’t approach a bull in his querencia because that’s where the bull is most dangerous; there, he collects, calms and readies himself. But the effectiveness of the bull’s querencia does not stem from the spot he chooses. Rather, it lies in the pause he takes there. 

In many ways, the practice of yoga is about embracing the power of the pause in order to create a sense of querencia on the mat. Whether pausing in stillness, pausing between sequences or pausing to hold a pose, the ability to create an intentional moment to reset, reconnect and go deeper within oneself is an effective practice. 

Yoga classes typically begin with the creation of a sacred, personal space on the mat. Students settle into stillness, turn inward and check in from head to toe. It is a time to let go of judgment and expectation and acknowledge how they have arrived on the mat physically, energetically and emotionally. It is a pause that encourages presence and mindfulness and serves as an invitation to connect with the authentic self. The pause creates querencia. 

Pause with the Breath

Pranayama, a yogic technique that focuses on the breath, is an integral part of a yoga practice. Considered to be one the most important breathing techniques in yoga, kumbhaka, breath retention, is the practice of creating longer pauses either at the top of the breath or at the bottom of it. Ancient yogic wisdom teaches that the practice of intentionally pausing the breath clears and cleans the lungs, optimizes the organs, improves concentration, encourages a sense of calm and, ultimately, prepares one for meditation. The pause created by kumbhaka sets the stage for students to create space both physically and mentally to connect more deeply with their practice and themselves.

Pausing is naturally and inextricably woven throughout an asana, or yoga pose, practice. Students pause to notice the flow of breath that moves through their bodies. They pause in poses to feel the sensations created by each shape. They pause to make subtle adjustments in their alignment, and they even pause to create extra layers of challenge to any given pose. 

Pause to Reset or Be Present

In many styles of yoga, there are opportunities to reset that appear as pauses in flows or sequences. For example, when flowing through a Sun Salutation, there is a pause in Downward Facing Dog before moving forward to begin again. Students are often guided into Child’s Pose for a few breaths of rest before beginning a new series of shapes. After easing out of a long-held yin posture, teachers cue students to pause, allowing the body to rebound from the pose before inviting back some movement. 

Yoga practitioners are also encouraged to go deeper by using pauses to heighten somatic and mental challenges. In some styles of yoga, poses that demand a lot of muscular engagement are held for a long time, offering students not only the edginess created by the physical strength the pose requires but the mental challenge of remaining calm and steady throughout its duration. Similarly, when practicing yin yoga, students work to cultivate a strong determination to stay still both physically and mentally. Throughout the length of each three- to five-minute pose, students might have a desire to come out of the shape, but they are encouraged to pause before moving, to stay present, to reconnect with the breath and to reset. The power of the pause sometimes comes in the juxtaposition between moving quickly through a vigorous portion of a practice to a state of complete stillness. 

No matter where the pause is placed in yoga, it provides practitioners with a return to home base—to querencia. 

Pause to Nourish Equanimity

Yoga is a fertile training ground for cultivating equanimity, that is, nonreactivity, evenness of temper, composure and mental calmness. When faced with a difficult moment on the mat, students learn to accept what is happening, breathe through it and begin again as needed, creating a safe space that allows them to be as they are and connect more readily with their true selves. Rather than fleeing from those moments, they pause in them to respond to the challenge with a calm mind. 

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali described yoga as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind (Yoga Sutra 1.2). Ultimately, the goal is for yoga students to use the practice as a tool to suspend mental chatter. Quieting the mind allows practitioners to be more mindful and fully present and to create deeper connections to themselves.

Viktor E. Frankl, the internationally renowned Austrian author, psychologist, psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor, wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” The power to choose a response from wisdom and intuition rather than raw emotion lies in the pause we take between what happens and our response to it. The concept of querencia suggests that it is in this space that one can be one’s truest self. The ability to use this space for growth and freedom is the true off-the-mat manifestation and expression of the equanimity cultivated on the mat. 

Yoga encourages students to embrace the pause in many ways and for a variety of purposes. It brings about a sense of querencia and welcomes students back to their home base to move, breathe and connect. ❧
Mila Burgess, E-RYT 500, YACEP, teaches at LifePower Yoga in Sandy Springs. She is the owner of Metta Yoga, offering workshops, private lessons, virtual classes, teacher trainings and retreats. Contact her at [email protected]
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