Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’
Mightily espoused by yogis world-wide, and most commonly quoted as the fundamental reason yogis “should” be vegetarian, it is one of the more clearly stated ethical boundaries adopted by those on the eight-fold path of Yoga. Clear in it’s message of kindness, and yet one I see thrown to the way-side in so many classes in which I participate.
Violence. A word that is endemic in this modern world: wars, gangs, crime, abuse, neglect, and every -ism you can name. Sometimes it makes headlines that make us cringe, or headlines that make us think. Many times violence is obvious, overt, in-your-face. These forms are easy to denounce, to rail against, to decry. Our practice on and off the mat is often used to counter the social atrocities that surround us: fund raisers, festivals, concerts, seva. Service. We offer our bodies and our hearts and our voices and our dollars at the alter of doing good for others.
And yet as we step on the mat each day, so many of us step right into the arms of Violence against ourselves. We come to the mat for solace, for effort, to burn off our stressors and dive deep within. However, this act can become unkind when pursued from a place tainted by competitive ego. We can move too fast, we can push too hard. We can refuse to listen to our inner voice when it whispers to us and only hear it when in screams at us from a truly deep injury.
Our asana practice is a tool to bring us into deeper alignment with our true Nature. If we approach it with a blind eye and deaf ear, we are no longer in a practice. Our asana can work against us if we don’t have a basic understanding of the Nature of our body, for our body is what we bring to the mat first. We cannot focus only on our muscle and bone, but neither can we discount it.
My own practice is deeply rooted in this physical exploration and though I have studied anatomy and physiology for going on two decades, I am still surprised and amazed by observations being made across the physical industries. This article by Michael Boyle MA, ATC, “Is Rotation Training Hurting Your Performance”, references just such observations with respect to twists in the low back. I found it eye-opening and gut-clenching all at once. Drawing from the research of Shirley Sarhman and her book, Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, it describes the importance of rotating our spine at the Thoracic level (mid-upper back) instead of our Lumbar levels.
This article was a wake-up call to me that even as closely as I observe and converse with the inner workings of my body, that I was ignoring some very basic functional anatomy and inflicting violence upon it with many of the movements in my practice. I have since made adjustments and found that my lingering back pains have disappeared.
This article also made me begin looking deeper at my spine in practice from top to bottom and along the way I have made some rather startling personal discoveries. As I teach these new alignments to my students, they are discovering their own new levels of freedom and strength. I will be offering intensives on this work in the months to come, so STAY TUNED.
Not only do we need to pay attention each time we step on the mat, but we must remain aware that new information is available for us to feed our knowledge base and grow in the intelligence of our asana. It’s not always about going farther or holding longer. Making those distinctions is part of our practice of Ahimsa. Be kind to your body.
The following is a clunky metaphor, to be sure. Don’t think I’m not aware of it. But it is a picture I recently drew for a student caught up in the type-A push and pull of yoga practice: how to be patient and remain present in the process when all you want is the freedom of a quiet mind.
Imagine you encounter a dog. A big dog. Let’s say a VERY big dog. This dog is not tethered, is not leashed to any stake. You like the look of this dog, your heart is joyous and full at the prospect of petting and loving and squishing this beautiful dog. And the dog knows it.
The dog gets VERY excited and begins leaping up onto you; paws in your face, tongue in your nose, your ears, your mouth. You try to push it down but it leaps at you again. You try to make it sit, stay, lay down, but it insists on climbing all over you. In it’s desire to please you and love you and be your companion, it actually pushes you away. You leave, quickly, and it takes a long while for you to approach another friendly dog.
But what if this same dog had discipline? What if all of that eager Love were channeled inward and tethered the dog to it’s seat? If you encounter this dog, his tail wagging wildly, bobbing gently from side to side, you may be drawn forward. As you approach this dog it lays down and offers it’s belly to be scratched, so ready to accept your Love instead of imposing it’s Love upon you. You bend down to him, rub his belly, scratch his ears, curl up with him on the ground and cuddle and play. You find that you and the dog have engaged yourselves, together in the moment. One has not overpowered the other, there is no control to gain. When you both are exhausted, you can walk away and the dog curls up in his place and naps.
Now I invite you to roll this around in your head. What if you were the dog and the person was your practice, your quiet moment, your mindless freedom. Which dog do you want to BE?
As yoga teachers, we feel responsible for so much: safety, ego, emotional health, students getting what they think they need, getting students in the door…and that’s just IN the studio. My own personal view: Start Small and Keep It Simple.
A colleague of mine recently emailed regarding a message I offered in one of my last trainings: Stop teaching rhetorically and think critically about what you are offering your students. I am posting her inquiry here and my response; I invite your take on this and an open discussion. Just remember to be nice
I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said about the “rhetoric” that plagues yoga instruction…
I’m really challenging myself and my colleagues to more clearly define what we are doing and why—and for our cues to reflect that.
Specifically, I’m struggling with the cue “open.” I say it so much but I want to get away from that—I want to be able to explain what I mean by “open” to a beginning student.
So I wonder how you would define this idea of “opening” an area of the body, or a tight, specific muscle.
Does that make sense? Please let me know what you think when you have a chance.
I am thrilled to hear you talk about this. The words we use are important, and clearly communicating our intention is a big part of being a successful teacher. You are correct, a word like “open” can be ambiguous at best. I prefer to describe the particulars of the tissue, structure or joint I am referring to…because your description of “opening” may be vastly different for each area.
My own style of teaching has evolved to limit descriptors as much as possible so I can communicate more information in less time. Ex: “right hand reaches to windows” instead of reach your right hand to the window wall”. At first, it may sound robotic, but over time, your voice, your cadence, your tone all bring meaning to these details without using extra words. You can be more direct when describing simple or basic movements. That way, when you begin to describe something more specific, the hip joint for example, the mere fact that you use more detail, or full sentences, draws attention to it’s importance.
I might describe the joint itself:
“there is a fibrous ligament that spirals around the head and neck of the femur bone, holding it into it’s socket. When we sit all day, the fibers of this ligament can get stuck together like velcro, and proper movement here can help pull those fibers apart and soften the tissue. We want to unwind the stickiness that extends through the connective tissue of the muscle and joint for more freedom. If we rush into a deep stretch or bully our way through these sticky spots, our tissue will fight us and even bite back…slow, movement, blood flow…that will serve us.”
I’ve taken a few extra seconds to draw them a mental picture of what their action can accomplish, what they are truly working on. I often refer back to “finding the middle ground”, “explore the edge but don’t push past it…it will move outward on its own”, “balance between length and strength”, “unwind”, “soften”, “melt”; instead of “open”.
I like to teach my students something about the body they’re in. You gotta start small, one little piece at a time. But those little pieces will begin to meet up in their minds to build a bigger view of what they are doing and why. Any time we are offered a meaning for the actions we take, we are more likely to take care in those actions.
I hope that helps! ~R