This afternoon’s core session was two hours dedicated to standing poses in which the legs are rotated externally – i.e., poses that work the inner thighs like nobody’s business. Specifically, the instructor focused us on Warrior 2, Extended Side Angle, Triangle, and Half Moon. We dissected every part of the four poses: we identified where feet should be, we assessed which leg should be more “active” (i.e., carry more weight), we ascertained the proper way body parts should be aligned (wrists to elbows to shoulders to neck; toes to ankles to knees to hips…); but even more importantly, we learned how the pose should feel in the various areas of the body. The teacher was much more concerned that our poses were correct versus “visually appealing”, and made a comment along the lines of how, when we teach, we should encourage (force?) our students to do ugly-but-correct poses, and not let them get away with pretty-but-incorrect positions. It’s easy to touch the ground in Triangle if the shoulders aren’t properly aligned; but if a student “cheats” in that way (i.e,. making the pose look good at the expense of doing ALL of the components properly), that student really isn’t gaining the true benefits of yoga.
The other point the teacher stressed today is that yoga really is less about flexibility, and much more about strength. To do a pose properly requires much more strength than most people think – and flexibility isn’t interchangeable with strength. Take the above Triangle pose example. Sure, I can contort my hips and shoulders and arms to make my hand touch the ground; but when I do that, are my legs really active, and bearing the weight they should? Or am I “cheating” by transferring the weight that should be in my legs to my hand that is on the ground? (Hint: Up until recently, I have been “cheating”. Granted, the cheating was unintentional – I truly didn’t know any better – but I simply wasn’t doing many of my poses properly.)
But that’s the whole point of my entering this teacher training program – to learn the right way to do yoga. Interestingly, I’m being told more and more that yoga is less about working poses from the outside-in (i.e., getting my body into positions that look good, no matter the ‘cost’), and instead doing this practice from the inside-out: both physically (i.e., muscularly), but clearly also mentally and emotionally.
Today’s class experience reinforced to me that yoga has so many parts and pieces, so many layers – both in the physical poses themselves, but also in the surround that encompasses the true union of the entire practice of “yoga”.