Wow, there was a lot to digest from today’s training! We began with a two and a half hour practice. (For comparison, a typical class is usually an hour and thirty minutes, so this is significantly longer than usual.) Even after so many years of yoga, that peaceful feeling I get when I first walk into a studio for class never gets old! There is this element of the possibility and excitement of what will happen in class, and yet at the same time, a sense of looking inward and implicit calm. There’s the yoga – tension of opposites.
Continuing our theme of neutral and externally rotated standing poses, today we focused on Warrior 1, Chair, Warrior 3, High Lunge and Plank. What is really cool about these poses is that they are all very similar in shape; what makes them distinct is your relationship to gravity. If that’s confusing and you’re curious about what I mean, check out the pictures of the poses in the links above and it will probably make more sense! We did a cool exercise today where five of us all made what was essentially the same shape in different relationships to the floor and wall, and I think it was a big light bulb moment for the class.
We talked about two themes today which really resonate with me. Ostensibly they were in relationship to the pose we were doing (Warrior 1 and High Lunge, which is the modification) but I have found these to be pretty useful in every day life. In doing both poses, Jenny asked us:
What do you gain, what do you lose?
High Lunge is essentially Warrior 1, but with the back heel off the ground. In classical Warrior 1, you gain stability (because your entire back foot is on the ground) but it makes it more challenging to square your hips (also because your entire back foot is on the ground). The opposite is true for High Lunge; it’s easier to square the hips, which is the classical version of the pose, but now you have to deal with balancing on the ball of the back foot. Basically what this pose is telling us is, you can’t eat your cake and have it, too.
Give up something to get something
Let me repeat… what?! If you know me, you know that I pretty much like to get what I want. (OK, who doesn’t?) I’m not saying it’s the best quality, but I’m facing up to reality here so just go with me. Jenny was demonstrating in class today how to transition between Plank and High Lunge. It’s tempting to swing out the hip of the leg that’s coming forward and then readjust yourself like 17 times. But if you caught my drift earlier about the two poses being essentially the same shape, you know that Plank is legs straight and High Lunge is front knee bent, but they’re otherwise identical. This means you, you know, ideally, shouldn’t have to move a single thing in your body other than the leg that’s coming up into the lunge. I assure you, this is harder than it sounds. Jenny said she lifts the hand on the side of the leg that’s coming forward just a bit (normally your palms would be flat on the floor) in order to make space for that foot to step all the way up. She’s giving up the consistency of both palms flat, but getting the leg in the proper position becomes more accessible with that small adjustment.
The bottom line with both of these themes is… compromise is a necessity for overall success. I could go on to qualify what “success” means in a yogic context, but I have a feeling you already know what I mean. It’s a metaphor for life. One of the qualities I most appreciate yoga is the way it translates “off the mat.” It’s not that I don’t already know that compromise is important, it’s that yoga gives me a means to practice it in a controlled environment, and then when I need to do it in real life, it already feels safe and familiar.
Now we begin the practice of yoga…
That’s a loose translation of the first sutra, which I mentioned briefly yesterday. We only discussed the first three today, but I kind of like the way they lead into one another:
Sutra 1: Now we begin the practice of yoga
Why would we want to practice yoga?
Sutra 2: Yoga stills the fluctuations of the mind
I’m not convinced… why should I do that?
Sutra 3: The true nature of the practitioner is revealed
That’s because when the mind is still, perception is clear and undistorted
I’m running out of steam, though, and if you’ve read this far I bet you have too!