Today’s 4-hour core session was an afternoon full of insights. We started class with a nearly hour-long discussion and investigation of upward facing dog, which is a pose all about lengthening the spine and opening the chest/heart. Early in the conversation, as we were discussing how to gain length and space in the spine, a mental image popped into my brain – and I imagined my spine like a string of pearls. Strong yet still somewhat delicate; classic yet still beautiful; “basic” yet still precious. In my mind’s eye, I saw my spine lengthen and straighten, yet still form a beautiful slight “S” curve; and seemingly out of nowhere I was struck with feelings of appreciation and awe for this physical marvel. Every day I force my body – COMMAND my body – to do so much: I make my feet and knees and bones carry a lot of weight around all day long; I push my back and butt into unfriendly chairs; I withhold sleep and rush through meals and ingest caffeine; and yet, my body continues to show up for me, day, after day, after day. It does its *very* best to accommodate my demands, and to do what I push it to do – and very rarely does it complain or rebel. In class today I began to look at my body with empathy, and with sympathy, and with compassion. While I can’t change certain factors about my life (i.e., sometimes my sleep is interrupted due to forces beyond my control; sometimes I don’t have the option of choosing the chair I’m required to sit in; sometimes I have to make my feet walk distances in not-very-supportive dress shoes), I can make some adjustments as various situations come up (I can take naps when my body is tired, I can at least sit up straight and tall in a crappy chair, I can walk slowly in the dress shoes instead of charging full-steam ahead); and at the very least, I can make requests of my body instead of commands. A mere twenty minutes into class my heart gained new insight. (And this is one of the many reasons why I deeply value yoga; it’s about SO much more than pretzel-like physical poses.)
As the teacher continued class discussions (now on the topic of how to explain poses to students), she made a comment about “verbalization” that got me thinking once again: As a yoga instructor, what do I want my personal voice to be? I didn’t intend to spend a lot of time ruminating on this question in class (as I had more pressing content to attend to), but it turns out I didn’t have to spend any time on it at all; as soon as the question popped into my mind, the answer followed just as quickly: I want my personal voice to be one that makes yoga accessible to anyone who wants to learn. Now, there is a LOT of content that goes into fully developing how that philosophical answer translates into overt actions, so I think that response merits an entire blog post all its own – which I will likely create sometime within the next 10 months, but which I will forgo today. Right now, I’m just delighted that it appears I have a “direction” in which I want to take my yoga teaching practice. At least, for today I do – who knows what tomorrow might bring. : )
Towards the end of the first part of today’s class session, the teacher shared a story with us about a student that attended one of her classes. The jist of the tale was basically that the student seemed not to want to take a class, but instead to show off a bit. I.e., the student didn’t follow the direction/instruction the teacher gave, but instead went at their own pace, held the poses their own way, and in some cases performed completely different poses from what the teacher cued. (Which would be like singing in a choir, but singing a completely different song from what everyone else was singing.) The teacher ended the story with a general rhetorical question, “Why do students take a class: To learn from the teacher? To show the teacher what they can do? To prove something to themselves?” It’s a wonderful question, and one that certainly got me thinking. Generally speaking, I do attend classes to learn. I know that I don’t know what I’m doing much of the time (and this teacher training program has only solidified that [but in a very positive way – please don’t misconstrue or read into that statement; I have to realize what I don’t yet know so that I can learn it]), and so my interest in attending classes is largely to learn. In class, I want to receive feedback, and then assess whether it is helpful and resonates with me. In class, I want to be led by someone who possesses more knowledge than I do, and follow their direction (even if it isn’t always what I might “want” to do). But sometimes (and sometimes rather often), in class I find myself simultaneously wanting to learn, but also wanting to “show off” for the teacher – especially if it is a teacher I respect and admire. I want to show them just how “good” I am, just how “well” I learn. I want to do this so they will feel good as a teacher (from my own experience as an instructor, I really do receive delight when one of my students “gets it”), but I also want to do this so the teacher will give me positive attention so that *I* will feel good. (In receiving that positive attention, I am affirmed/”prove” to myself that I am good, hard-working, smart, gifted, talented, special, etc., etc., etc.) Wow – talk about some deep psychological/interpersonal insights from a seemingly “physical” event like yoga. And that is the beauty of yoga – when it is taken beyond a mere “workout”, and explored more as a holistic philosophy (and for some, even a way of life). Whew.
And all of this occurred in the first part of the class. In the second two hours of the core session, a different teacher came in, and we spent another 60-90 minutes focused on a single pose: staff pose. While this pose may seem easy, when done properly, it is quite challenging. (Which is so true of so many poses in yoga – and is true of so many life experiences in general.) During class, I saw most of us students tremble and sweat under the strain of holding this pose properly for a mere 20-30 seconds; and our class is comprised of fit people. We are a group that contains tiny people, svelte people, young people, uuber-flexible people, athletic people, physically active people – and yet, nearly all of us struggled. And when I stood up at the end of class (as we spent the entire duration of these latter two hours on the floor), oooohhhh man! did my inner thighs feel it! Wowzers. This core session pushed me physically, intellectually, emotionally, and philosophically; and still, I left smiling and delighted. Such is the beautiful power of yoga. : )