Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Leg Work [of Shoulder Work]

This past week, my classes have revolved around the same theme - that yoga offers us an opportunity to learn (and observe) how we can support ourselves through challenging and strenuous experiences.

Hatha yoga is all about the experience. I feel that people who are drawn to this leg of yoga are drawn in part because they need the visceral effect in order to have a shift in perspective. To help facilitate this, I've been working up to a variation on the plank -chatarunga dandasana-bhujangasana sequence, focusing on alignment in the upper back and shoulders. Especially challenging for women because we lack an upper body strength privy to men, this sequence clearly demonstrates how empowering it can be to find support against the weight of gravity. When we are standing (mostly) on our hands, it's easy to feel how much weight we carry in ourselves, and what a relief it can be once we learn how to support it properly.

What I've been seeing is that many people 1.) forget to breathe 2.) don't go forward far enough because they believe they'll face-plant on their way down or 3.) both.

Here's the thing: we need breath to support the physical body and we need to move forward in order to move through challenging things.

This quote comes to mind from Rainer Maria Rilke in "Letters to a Young Poet," where he is speaking about being alone on a difficult journey:

" And you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that you want to move out of it. This very wish, if you use it calmly and prudently and like a tool, will help you spread out your solitude over a great distance. Most people have (with the help of conventions) turned their solutions toward what is easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must trust in what is difficult..."

It is fascinating for me to watch this take shape for my students, and to hear their long time student of yoga told me this past weekend that of all the times she has done these poses, she didn't know that she could feel better in them. What an opening for her!

How many times do we find ourselves in an experience (a conversation, a circumstance) that we have been in many times before, and sense that it can be more simple, that it can feel better, that we can breathe easier if we knew how to do something differently?

May we all trust to move forward in our journey, and do the difficult work of learning how to support ourselves.

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