Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Monday Night

I had a great time teaching last night after having a week off for Thanksgiving. I definitely felt refreshed and relaxed headed into the evening. The 5:30 class worked on the basic backbends- after a visit to a few standing poses they worked on setu bandhasana, danurasana and ustrasana. A lot of progress was made from the first time I introduced ustrasana to the group which is why it is so great to have these short sessions which emphasize a small handeful of poses- over the course of 6-8 weeks on can really monitor progress quite nicely.

The 7:00 had some folks missing but we had a great time working on parasvakonasana, anjanyeasana nd revolved parsvakonasana. (I mean,I had fun- revolved parsvakonasana is a hard pose and certainly there were moments of un-fun for those working on it!) On the first side of the pose I realized people had been there a while and I said,"Okay, just come on out." My tone must have reflected something else because the students teased me that I sounded more like, "That was terrible, just come on out, you are ruining the pose!" We had a good laugh as they teased me and themselves about the first attempt. But, by the second time the pose had radically improved, as I knew it would.

Last night someone asked me why I do not talk about the breath a lot. I get this question a lot and I must say that first of all, I absolutely instruct with the breath. (This person was not being critical, just curious. He is a good student, likes the class and so on.) I say things all the time about the breath like, "Inhale lift your chest, exhale touch the floor, etc." During sun salutations, I say very little other than inhale/exhale and whatever action is next. So in one way whenever someone says we do not talk about the breath a lot I am like, "Are you listening? How can you miss it?"

But he is right, in one way. In Anusara Yoga, particularly in the beginning we are not so "breath-oriented". (Although on the first night of a beginning series all I do is teach simple action in coordination with the breath- so again- how can you miss this? But I digress.) I explained to him that to me it is like a desktop publishing program. You know how you can import a picture and then you can import text into the document? And then with the push of a button you can move one or the other to the foreground or to the background? So for me when I teach, the biomechanics, the heart qualities and the breath are always getting moved in and out of the foreground.

And in Anusara Yoga once people have great physcial alignment and know what the poses are and what they are supposed to look like and what actions are required to keep the pose alive and advancing, then yes, we bring in a stronger emphasis with the breath. But in the beginning we often put the alignment in a bit more of the foreground. And because we do not have prescribed sequences, the emphasis of breath, body, heart will move around class to class at the teacher's discretion.

Also, you cannot really practice heart qualities without the breath because the breath is the carrier of these deeper aspects of the pose. The breath bridges the domain between intention and action, and is the means by which we join attitude with the posture.
But, like I said, he is right in other ways as well (as are Ansusara Yoga's many critics that say we do not talk about the breath) because- it is not our way to simply describe a pose and then remind you, during the duration of the time you are in the pose, to "focus on the breath." We are saying, Focus on the lift of your leg, the deepening of your groins, the scoop of the tailbone, the remembrance of your heart's deepest longings AND your breath." There are so many important things to give attention to for us- the breath is just one of many.

The other thing that I mut say is that I personally love the breath. Moving with the breath is a delicious thing. I love it and in my personal practice I do a lot of that at times. And for many people, that deliciousness translates to a "yoga zone" that is quite delightful. I, too, love the zone. But the problem with that zone in class is that it is not necessarily a great mindset for learning. It is a great mindset for Being, for worship, for Remembering. But in terms of how to advance, how to refine, how to clarify, the zone is often way to sleepy to be effective. So in a yoga class, my main intention is to TEACH people how to improve their practice, not to simply facilitate a yoga zone. And in order to teach effectively, people need to be alert and the yoga zone, for many, from what I have observed over the years is just not conducive to the kind of clarity I hope people gain from being in my class.

Now the sad thing is many people really prefer the zone over clarity and hate for their flow, their zone, etc. to be disturbed even for the sake of learning something that will provide them with tools for improvement to such a degree that within six months to a year their "flow" their ability and skill will astound them if they just allowed a pause in the flow to actually learn.

And really, the deepest meaning of vinyasa is continuity. The reason why we link postures in a seamless flow is to understand the seamless flow of consciousness that underlies the forms of manifestation. As yogi's we can and should be able to cultivate an awareness of consciousness, an ability to "Stay in the flow" whether we are observing the breath, the muscles of the legs or arms, the purity of the heart and even when feeding the intellect. All those expressions of "yoga" are expressions of the Great Flow itself, which operates in vinyasa- a seamless continuity.

And another thing- I did not learn advanced postures by breathing nor did I learn them "in flow". They were not revealed. They were cultivated and practiced. I learned them by watching lots of demos and by practicing their component parts. When I am balancing on my hands and bringing my feet over to touch my head for scorpion pose (pictured below) I am not thinking about five smooth inhales and exhales- I am thinking "strong arms, soft heart, now melt, melt, melt, melt more, now inner thighs back and now extend through the the balls of the feet but keep inner spiral, now exhale, more melt, now extend, more inner spiral, not enough, more, more, more, still not enough, now there's the feeling in my upper back that tells me I am in position and now that's all I can do, now bend your legs, there is my head, keep the arms strong, claw the floor, breathe." Like that.
So like I said, my students question was not at all loaded (unlike this response!) but the question served as a most excellent springboard for my post this morning. Enjoy the rant, enjoy your day. Love.


Leanne said...

I love your comments on flow. Good...I don't feel very "flowy" when I am doing harder poses and running an internal dialogue. "Breath, soften my skin, fill from the inside, inner spiral, now outer, more tailbone, more flesh- keep the side ribs back"..actually my internal dialogue sounds amazingly similar to your voice.

Love the new blue car- very you- blue to calm the pitta. Bet you really wanted the red one though...

Love Leanne :>)

Christina Sell said...

Yes, I did wnat the red but they only had blue in stock and so true to my pitta nature what I wanted more than a specific color was immediate gratification! So I got the only Fit they had on the lot that day.

And for the record, since people have been asking, We still have the Element as it is a fabulous car. I traded in my POS PT Cruiser.

mandy said...

Enjoyed the rant. Please keep ranting.