“How should this pose feel?”
“Where am I supposed to feel it?”
Beginners ask these questions a lot (and so do more experienced yoga practitioners when learning something new). The questioning of what we’re doing and why is an important part of yoga and I welcome it in my classes.
At first, the practice of yoga seems to be all about the poses. But when yoga is taught with intention, it is WAY MORE than stretching, bending and strength-building.
True, in your first few classes it’s all you can do to perform the asanas (poses) along with the class. But while you are doing this, you are developing other skills that are transferable your life outside of the yoga class. You will be developing abilities right from the start – usually before you even realize it.
Paying close attention to what you’re doing in each pose makes for a great beginning. Of course, there’s the matter of keeping yourself safe and free of injury.
The key is to investigate your own experience — but some of us (including me) need reminding to trust our own experience to guide us.
It’s foolhardy to show up to a new yoga class and bend & twist yourself into all manner of contortions without observing a few things:
Experimentation is a great tool, and it works best when you bring in the right amount of observation and evaluation – pretty much like the scientific method we learned in junior high school science classes.
This is our 2nd ingredient for creating a positive yoga experience: Investigate Your Experience. This concept is called svadhyaya (self-study) in the Yoga Sutras.
We learn this best when we do it consciously and deliberately.
The 1st ingredient of the yoga experience is:
Apply Yourself (click here to read about that)
This 8-week series we are all learning new things about the most important poses in yoga.
That’s what a new year is all about. We hit “refresh.” We reboot our system. We get busy. We go back to the basics and make ourselves stronger, smarter, better.
When you take responsibility for your own health and well-being, you must become the ultimate authority on you. You make the decisions about what kind of health care you need, what insurance plan will work for you, what vitamins to take, what doctor to go to, etc.
The wonderful thing about 21st century America is that you have so many choices!
You can ask your doctor, you can get a second opinion, you can ask an alternative practitioner, you can consult books, and get many answers to the same question.
You can go for the Google – and end up with 1,247,329 answers to your search for something like “sore tooth” or “hot flash.”
It’s up to you to decide.
This takes practice.
This is where our yoga comes in.
After we do a pose, take the time to observe.
How does this feel in my body? When I was in the pose what was I thinking about – was my mind wandering or was I feeling the physical sensation of the pose? Where did I feel extension? What was the level of intensity? Is this level of intensity working for me? Do I need more intensity in order to fully experience the pose? Do I need to back off because the intensity makes me grit my teeth or hold my breath?
I will ask you how you feel after practicing a pose. If you answer good, bad, or fine I will ask you to come up with more words to describe how you feel.
We are going to learn to paint with all the colors in our palette – to use a metaphor. Good, bad and fine are places we starts. But if you are limited to only those three, you end up feeling in black/white/greyscale.
Over time you will learn to name more subtleties of sensation. With practice at naming your experience, you will become more adept at picking up on small clues in your body. You will be able to “listen to your body” as the new agers are fond of saying.
That “listen to your body” imperative will no longer seem impossible. You will no longer be waiting for your doctor to tell you what to do. You will make fewer mis-steps when dealing with the ups and downs of a long life.
Not only will “investigate your experience” be your best health preventive tool, it will become invaluable to you as you go through-out your daily tasks of living.
You will use it and not even realize you are using it. You will rely on yourself to let you know how to interact with others at work, when to seek a new relationship and when to let an unsatisfying one go. What to eat and when. How much sleep and how much money you need to live comfortably. The possibilities are HUGE!
You do have to do the work! You have to practice.
I can only tell you from personal experience that it is the best way I have found to live in this world – and I’ve investigated lots of other ways. I will tell you about my own mis-steps and false starts at some point, but those are topics for another day.
In the meantime, get on your mat! And get to class!