I have a confession to make. I am a yoga teacher and I can't push up into a handstand without the assistance of a wall. My flexibility on most days challenges me. And in certain postures my hips are not perfectly aligned to the front as I've been told is the correct position.
As a new teacher and as what some might consider an OLDER, new teacher at almost 46, at times I have felt the pressure to follow the lead of more popular yoga teachers in my community. I live in a town saturated with yoga studios and even more yoga teachers. From my perspective it seems like the more popular studios are the ones where it is not unusual to see students move from crow pose right into a handstand. Let me be clear and say there is nothing wrong with that. But I've been questioning lately what the point is of being able to do some of the more "challenging" poses.
So what is the point of the asanas in yoga?
Here is what I believe.
- The shapes we place our bodies in can help us to release unnecessary tension when done in a way that we aren't forcing the pose.
- The postures can help us with stability, flexibility, balance, strength and creating space in our bodies.
- The postures can help bring our nervous system into a more easeful state.
But here is where I really see the benefits of the asanas...The postures help us to become present, and observe.
It's about what we are doing when we are in a particular pose, rather than the actual pose itself. When we move into a posture we get focused and watch the dualities that arise-ease & effort, pleasure & pain, stability & openness, comfort & discomfort. The postures allow us to be a witness to the fluctuations that rise and fall. From this awareness, we can then notice the sensations that we feel in our bodies, and observe how the physical sensations turn into thoughts and emotions. From there you can see how our minds react to what's coming and going and then reflect on why we are reacting in a particular way.
So often as humans we tend to react in a habitual way. The asana practice assists us in seeing our patterns, allows us to get curious about why we react the way we do and then hopefully see if we can choose a different way of reacting that better serves us.
SO WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT?
The patterns, observations, the choices we make on the mat can help us so much in our lives off the mat. This way of moving inward with our attention and listening helps us shift patterns that do not serve us and helps us begin to consistently act from our highest behavior on and off the mat. With consistent practice, this attention to our behavior on the mat will in turn help us with our relationships to our families and all those we come in contact with.
So does the shape of the pose really matter?
I say it depends on why you are practicing the postures. If you believe the poses are to become present and to watch what the mind does and how the mind reacts, then I say no, the actual shape of the pose does not really matter.
Teaching is a tremendous responsibility and I continually evaluate my teaching and my WHY. As I've gained more clarity about why I teach I choose to teach "simple asana". I like the idea of taking the more accessible poses and using them as a vehicle to strengthen our bodies, soften our minds and open our hearts. This, in my opinion, is the work of an "advanced practitioner."
I don't believe one pose fits all. You will tend to hear me give options and variations in my classes not because one is easier than the other but because I understand one pose may not work for you but there might be another pose or variation that does. YOUR BODY IS UNIQUE. Your edge is different and you should respect and honor that in a big way.
As a teacher I do not know everything. I continue to learn all the time. I refine my teaching based on new information and based on what makes sense to me. As a student, you take that information and use it in a way that makes sense to YOU. I do not know what it is like in your body so please trust that you are your best teacher. Listen to your intuition, honor your limitations and learn to trust yourself and do what feels right for you and your body. Do YOU as only you can and trust the yoga.