In tips for teachers

I arrived early to my Tuesday class, so asked some of the students if they had any inspirations for the practice.  “Levitation,” replied one particularly cheeky monkey.  “Inversions!” another cried.  “I may get in trouble for this,” said a third, “but I’d like to do abs.”

Alright, I thought.  Levitating, inverted abs it is.

Challenge is an inherent part of any arm balancing themed class.  After all, a solid core connection is essential for any standing on the hands, and that invariably winds up being, well…hard.  You need to connect to the arches of the feet, then follow the inner leg line of energy through the adductors, into the pelvic floor, into the transverse abdominals.  It takes a little effort.

And now, I have to mention India.

While I was in India, I did not practice.  Well, okay, maybe a couple times.  But for the majority of my trip, I spent my time walking, eating, observing, haggling, and generally doing everything but yoga.  So I went from having a 2 hours plus practice most days of the week to doing almost nothing.

And it was GREAT.

You see, about a week into my trip, I suddenly realized that something was different.  I didn’t hurt anymore.  The repetitive injuries that I’d been “working through” had faded and my body seemed to be functioning happily.  Rather than fall apart without my yoga practice, my body seemed to be actually doing better.

Now, this isn’t because yoga is bad for you.  On the contrary, yoga is very (very) good for you.  But I’d been practicing in a way that became counter-productive.  I had been over-stressing my body because I liked the challenge.  I wanted to advance my practice, and it seemed like the only way to do this was to do harder poses.  Wasn’t it?

There’s a part of all of us that thrives on challenge.  On advancement.  (You type A’s  know exactly what I mean.)  But when we overdo it and impose a practice on on our body, rather than experience the practice, our body sends us signals that we’re going too far.  If we’re ambitious, we rarely listen and instead “push through,” only to be stopped in our tracks eventually by some sort of injury.

Does this mean we shouldn’t challenge ourselves?  Of course not!  But we must challenge ourselves while still respecting the voice of our body.  So, in other words, how can we honor ourselves and still attempt levitating, inverted abs?

We must listen to ourselves.  Rather than “do” your practice, “be” your practice.  Be inside your practice, rather than inflicting it on your unsuspecting body.  When the challenges come (and they always do), give yourself the space to respond rather than react.  Instead of shutting off or overcompensating, breathe and integrate the experience.  These moments of stress in yoga class are fertile ground for practicing how to consciously respond to anxiety off the mat.

Notice: what’s your pattern for coping with challenge?  Do you ferociously attack it, or succumb without a fight?  Can we practice being with the challenge without adding a psychological agenda?  Can we actually soften in order to be strong?

Since you may be curious, we wound up practicing the transitions from tripod headstand to bakasana and back again.  Fun, fun, all day long. Levitating, inverting abs, indeed!

Photo by SBK

Photo by SBK

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