This afternoon was a core instruction session, and it followed the usual structure: asana (pose) examination, niyama (ethics) exploration and conversation, and yoga topic lecture/teaching.
We examined two poses today, actually: Extended Side Angle, and Revolved Side Angle. While the poses sound nearly identical, and look rather similar, experientially they are actually pretty different from one another. We had very good conversation and practice around what to focus on in these poses; namely, to forget about trying to “go deep” into the pose (which is what nearly every single person wants to achieve in yoga: going deeper and deeper into a pose), and instead to focus on proper form and alignment (which is what nearly all people “cheat” on when they do yoga). To move into and hold a pose properly is usually *very* challenging; and most people simply aren’t strong and/or flexible and/or balanced enough to do very many poses correctly and go super-deep. [I analogize this to weight lifting: Most people who lift weights want to lift the maximum number of pounds their poor bodies can remotely bear, but in doing so, the form is all jacked up. ‘Yeah, I can lift 500 pounds; but I’m using my back more than my arms.’ Similarly in yoga: Most people want to go as deep as they can force their poor muscles and bones to do. ‘Yeah, I can touch my shoulder to the floor; but my legs are all bent and wonky.’) Ah, ego… very few of us are spared from this strong entity; but yoga is a terrific place to actively see it at work.
The pose examination and practice then fed in very nicely to the niyama for today: Santosha, which translates into “contentment”. We had small group conversations about how contentment is different than happiness, talked about when we have been discontented and content in our past, and discussed strategies we could employ to cultivate more contentment in our lives. Our teacher left us with this challenge: “find contentment with your personal practice.” So, back to the topic above: If my body is not yet able to fully twist into the Revolved Side Angle pose, am I content with respecting my current physical limits, and only twisting as far as is truly healthy for me at this point in time? Or do I push and push beyond what I *know* is safe for my body, and “achieve” depth at the expense of sore muscles and even possible physical damage? Am I content with the reality of where I am at today, or am I grasping for something more, or am I pushing away (or avoiding, or resisting) something that is present right now? When explored honestly and fully, these can be pretty tough questions. At least for me, anyway.
We then transitioned into our lecture topic of the day, and spent the final two hours of class learning about chakras. Chakras are described by different people in different ways, but in the broadest sense a “chakra” can be explained as an energetic area of the body. There are seven different chakras placed in different locations along the spinal area, and each chakra is “responsible” for a different body part, a different emotional state, different spiritual goals, etc. (A quick-yet-effective overview of chakras can be found here.) Today’s instructor talked about the characteristics of each of the chakras, gave us some yoga poses and mudras (hand poses) that can impact each chakra, and then we practiced some of the poses and mudras interactively.
This section of class was reminiscent of my recent yin and tantra class experiences, but I tried very hard to keep an open, willing mind; to at least hear the information, and try to explore it on my own before dismissing it outright. It was challenging, but I think I was successful in remaining as open and non-judgmental as possible in today’s class. I don’t know why I’m so strongly resistant to the concepts of tantra, and chakras, and energy work… I can actually “do” them rather easily, in that I can chant mantras, I can visualize chakra energy, I can meditate…I can be “successful” in going through the motions of these techniques and practices. So why am I so resistant to these concepts? I don’t know why, but I can feel a palpable pushing away in my being (in my head, in my gut, in my “soul”) whenever the conversation turns towards “chakra energy” and “mala mantras” and the like. Maybe it’s because these concepts are applied too widely, too broadly, too generically, too flippantly in everyday society, such that they have lost their true meaning from a pure yogic sense? I don’t know… But like I said, I’m trying to stay open to what is, and see what comes. Today’s teacher told us, “Your emotions are your teachers”; so I’m trying to learn whatever it is my second and sixth chakras are trying to educate me about. Stay tuned…. I certainly will.