I teach all over the DC area in so many different environments. All day I hear the complaints of tight muscles, restless mind and lack of sleep. So if the majority are saying it – does that mean you are unusual?
Don’t get me wrong, I like holding space for those expressing their doubts and concerns but I also like to explain to them that they aren’t so strange. “Its called normal”. Because of our social media era we live in, we can look at images and feel we are the odd ones. So I like to help first by setting aside the negative focus.
I will have someone come into class and quickly tell me they lack flexibility. What I feel is we don’t understand or see ourselves fully. We think in order to fix and often that comes in the expressing of pulling on something that is tight already. I will ask them “how has that been going for you?” Often they have spent a lifetime stretching this way.
Fact is when you extend your limbs (arms or legs) away from the center of your body (core) the body responds. It has done this for you since you first learned how to lift your head, arms and hands as a baby. To keep you from falling the core has learned how to tighten up and pull away to help hold you there. This isn’t a bad thing and certainly not something I want you to unlearn. Yet we think of it as “I’m tight”. When in fact it was supposed to be. Now if you bend or unlock your elbows or knees and extend you will be pulling less muscles and extend further. You also have to experiment with the distance of the legs and arms.
Most of what we look at when we see someone do a big forward fold or backbend is not flexibility at all; it didn’t have to do with muscles. It had to do with that persons bones; length, how many and where the opening are between the joints. You have it or you don’t. All the pulling isn’t going to make you go deeper into the position. This is what makes knowing what is right or helpful so hard. It can be different for everyone.
So as I say in my classes you can blame if you like – but that would mean being mad at your ancestors. This is who you are and inherited; instead of worrying about being someone else lets see if you can enjoy right now as it is. Lets focus on the positive now.
This is why for me I am less about the ascetic way of teaching poses and more about your ability to function in them. “Space is your friend” you will hear me say. You need to see where you can discover the space within your body to be in the pose where it is just enough.
So what is enough? That is subjective. For me enough is where I can still take calm and moderate breaths. I know myself though – I have a tendency to go hard. So I pull back and wait before I just try harder. Each of us can learn to investigate in the pose and ask ourselves is this helping or hurting. As Bernie Clark likes to say “We can use the pose to better understand ourselves”.
Fact is the body is often sending us messages – little ones all day and we miss the message or interpret it wrong. We are human. We will make mistakes. Point is to always be listening, learning and exploring.
Even as a teacher I do this. I don’t teach the same way I did 10 years ago. When I first started teaching I took what I was told and basically taught that; that is what any profession does. When I started out in accounting I spent years being mentored and taught; past the education but in the practical use.
For this reason I personally didn’t offer any training class or workshops for a long time. I didn’t see that I was ready to offer something that was coming from my own experience. I spent over 4 years just teaching and learning from that. Then by year 5 I started my 500 Hr training and started teaching in my classes more meditation, concentration and pranayama. I did that for years while I specialized in specific populations. I started workshops that I felt were unique and different by year 6. Now with 10 years of experience I’m just starting trainings to educate others and teach other teachers. I feel ready and know that I’m not just offering someone else ideas but my own.
We each have our own internal teacher and it takes focus and awareness to listen to it. I’m sure you have heard the saying “with age comes wisdom”. I don’t think that is just the case. I think that over time for sure many become more aware. But some are young and practice awareness early on and are so wise beyond their years.
What makes it so hard is to put aside what we are so sure of about ourselves and question; put aside our ego that wants it to be a certain way. If we can take a daily time to listen to your own internal voice we may start to hear ourselves. Is there any place in that statement that has a feeling of want or blame in it? How about judgement or fear? If so take a deep breath and see if you can explore the statement more. Finish the internal message with the words “and yet”. For example, “I’m tight, and yet I’m strong” or “I’m tired, and yet I’m happy”. “I’ve had a tough day and yet it was hopeful”.
I hope this message lands where it needs to be with you and yet it helps.