I had the chance to see one of my teachers, Christina Sell, for two class in Portland this past weekend. Being in Christina’s presence always helps to restore my faith in the process of yoga and in humanity in general. She’s a straight shooter who is not afraid to make you work hard (does this sound familiar?) She always threads lovely metaphor and wisdom into her teaching of alignment based yoga (least we forget that yoga is more than just a bunch of movements and poses). It’s not soft or fluffy talk about things like Goddesses or embracing your own inner beauty. It’s real shit (and she’s not afraid to curse either when it makes a point). And I love her to pieces.
Christina said something on Sunday late afternoon, about 2.5 hours into 3 hours of yoga asana practice, that really stood out. “Pay attention. Be sensitive. Respond.” I heard the words pass through my field of awareness while I was working on some intense pose (maybe it was Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana…that one’s pretty tough). I took mental note enough to remind myself to “write that shit down.” So here I am, writing it down on my blog and sharing with you.
Let’s break this down and then put it back together again, shall we?
- Pay attention: This means be present. To me, this means not getting caught up in a frenzy of poses in the context of a one hour practice. Or even a 90 minute or two hour practice. It’s hard to pay attention (well, for me personally) when I am being asked to do too much or to rush to the next pose. I also find it difficult to pay attention when there’s music playing, especially if it’s music with lyrics. It takes me out of the moment of practice. Please remember, this is just MY experience. But I do remember one time, another one of my teachers saying “Music is for listening to, not for asana practice or meditation.” Paying attention takes a lot of mental energy. And I just can’t use all that mental energy to focus on the task at hand if there are other distractions.
- Be sensitive: This doesn’t mean “be sensitive” in the classical meaning of sensitivity. For me, it implies going deeper. Christina gave us a cue (or a series of cues) to take us deeper into the pose. What she meant by sensitivity was developing the inner awareness to feel the movements of the body, to feel the pose evolving in the context of each practitioner’s body. It take a TON of work to be sensitive in asana practice. I can remember back to my days starting yoga, especially starting Iyengar Yoga, when I had absolutely no clue what the hell the teacher wanted me to do. Stretch the skin on the back of my heel? Um…yeah, I don’t know what you are talking about. But through the course of practice, of paying attention, I started to understand. To become more sensitive to not only the external cues, but also the internal movements of my body, my breath and yes, even my skin. It took time and regular practice in alignment based yoga to develop the ability to “be sensitive.”
- Respond: After you develop the ability to pay attention and be sensitive, it’s time to respond. From an asana perspective, this means the ability to refine your movements. To take your practice to the point where your response to subtle cues (like about feeling the skin) becomes an internal response, one of curiosity and exploration. Not one of forcing. One of feeling out what’s the best approach to the given cue. Can you do it? Is it completely out of the question? Again, it’s responding from a send of curiosity and feeling. And knowing it’s okay if you can’t do it!
How does it all connect? Really, it comes back to that exploration and curiosity. And the willingness to be okay with not being able to perfect every little cue. There are still times that I feel puzzled about how to make things happen in my body, but I’m okay with that. Because really it’s about the ability to respond to yourself kindly and compassionately, not berate yourself for sucking (which trust me, has happened to me on multiple occasions and is not worth it). And ultimately, it’s about how we can take all these lessons off the mat and into daily life. Can we dig deep, be sensitive to ourselves and others, and respond with our truth? These are all tough things to do, but worth the effort. And much harder than Parivrtta Janu Sirsasana any day.
Thanks for reading. I am hoping to create more interesting content in the coming months on the intersection of yoga, Crossfit, strength and other shit that I find interesting…like bunnies. And coffee. (or just follow me on Instagram.)