Today's guest blogger is again my significant other making his second appearance on the blog. His regular blog is about apples, but he has some things to say about yoga too!
Listening is a very powerful action, which can take many forms. In yoga practice, listening means being responsive to the signals your body is sending you, knowing when to go further into a stretch or when to back off. It can also mean knowing when to attempt a pose you are not very comfortable in or when to just say "no, maybe tomorrow, that is not what my body needs right now." Listening to your body can feel especially difficult when you are in a class surrounded by 10 or 20 others all doing a pose and a teacher telling you to go deeper or just stay for one more breath. Teachers are there as guides and there instructions are really only suggestions. One should never see going into child's pose as a weakness, you are the one who knows your body best.
Listening to your body can also mean getting in touch with that inner intuition in your daily practice, maybe when you are at home and you don't have the reassuring voice of the teacher telling you to drop your shoulders and engage your legs. In this case listing can also take the form of an awareness of your body and it's dynamic aspects. Realizing that a small adjustment in one part of you body may allow another part to go deeper into a pose, or a breath to feel more relaxed and fluid. Truly knowing your body is the most important thing and in my opinion will get you farther in your practice than any amount of crazy twisting, balancing and pretzeling.
I am speaking to myself as much as anyone else. My own ego often temps me turn a deaf ear to my own intuition and look over at the person next to me in class who seems to be much deeper in the pose than I and thus must be getting a greater benefit from the asana. The truth of it is, spending my energy trying to be somewhere my body is not ready to be, will not only crush my self image, but could more importantly injure my body. Like most things in life, listing to your body entails maintaining a delicate balance. If you always push your limit, one time or another you will hurt yourself, maybe seriously. If you always come out of a pose as soon as your legs start shaking or your arms feel like they want to give out, you will not grow into the pose. The key to listening is finding a balance between those two, and not an arbitrary one, but one that truly reflects what your body is telling you. This can change on a day to day basis. You may have felt an amazing stretch in Bow one day and then when you put your hands under your shoulders the next day there might be something telling you to just stay in bridge. Listen to that voice, our bodies are dynamic and effected by so many aspects of our daily lives, we can never expect our practice to be a continuous progression to something better, but a moment to moment awareness and response to our deepest needs.
What I give to you today is not a specific sequence, but rather an exercise which can be performed at home in a personal practice or in a class. If you are practicing alone, choose a sequence that feels familiar to you and has a good balance of poses you are comfortable with and some that feel more challenging. In all aspects of this practice the goal is to have a keen awareness of what your body needs and how each part relates to all the others. In the poses that feel easy, try to make some small adjustments that might allow you to go deeper, always listening. In the more challenging poses, really pay attention to whether your body is even ready to go into them, don't think with your ego or your head, but with your heart. If your body says no, save it for another day. For challenging poses you do attempt, don't go into them with any expectations, do not tell yourself you are going to hold for a certain number of breaths and then release. If you are counting your breaths, you are not feeling the pose.
If you are in a class make your intention to be open to your body's voice. Focus your eyes on points around the room, but not on other people. If a pose puts you in the position to look at another person, keep your eyes soft and focus inward. When you are in poses, especially ones you may be less comfortable with, concentrate on how the pose feels and not the image of what you think it should look like. If you are in a pose that is opening you like you wouldn't believe, stay in it even if the rest of the class comes out, then come out when YOU are ready. Attempt challenging poses only to the extent that if feels right. Never be afraid to ask an instructor for other variations of a pose, or strike your own. Never stay in a pose longer than feels right to you. A good class allows you to experience a balance of personal awareness and group energy. Remember that yoga is not about trying to prove anything to anyone, most of all yourself.