When I dance by myself I let loose. I dance spontaneously. Why? Well for one, I never learned to dance. I suck at it. So if I’m going to dance I have to do it by myself, to music. My spontaneity is a function of feeling unselfconscious. Not the other way ’round. I mean when my ole life coach Pati yells, “Loosen up!” I tense. The more she pushes the more I pull. . .away. I don’t relax on demand. oops. Yet demanding happens every day in yoga classes. Even me, I’m a yoga teacher, I instruct people to “tune” into their breath, to notice their body, to feel, to sensate, to perceive what’s going on inside. Dude, I’m kinda telling’ em what to do. The practiced yoga students close their eyes entering blissful surrender. The newcomers look around nervously. Facial and abdominal muscles tensing they glance at the clock, at me, at the other students – until a tangible command follows.
In college I take a semester of ballet 1, and a semester of hula. In the beginning we spend plenty time learning the steps and the names of the steps which are in French and Hawai’ian, respectively. Interestingly no one complains. No one demands English version of the names. We translate silently, in our minds, hearing the words “Grand jeté” or “umi” what body movement is required, making that movement as we translate back into English what we are doing. A jete’ is a jump, but not any jump, not every jump. Therefore using the word “jump” would have muddled instruction. If I want to learn ballet I have to learn the difference between jete’ and grand jete’ and round-de-jambe etc. Hula is not easier, it’s worse because Hawai’ian and hula are intricately connected to a culture, while ballet has had firm footing in the New World for over a century.
My point is, and I do have one, is that movement, spontaneous, joyous movement is a right brain activity. Language is not. Planning, sequencing and articulation live in the left hemisphere. So the more one lapses into a need to translate French into English into movement the more one moves into the logical left brain. But dancing, dancing with passion with joie de vivre emanates from the right brain. In order to get past amateur we must get so ingrained with the left brain information we are free to focus on the right. Dancing by myself is entirely right brain. Music goes in my right ear and steps come out my feet, swing rotates my torso and rhythm gets lost somewhere between the two. If I want to dance better I’d have to get off my high horse and go take some lessons.
When I’m taking lessons the teacher might say, “U’we’he, umi, slide – ” which is very inhibiting. I have to co-ordinate my hands, my hips and my feet all while keeping the beat. But less inhibiting than you would imagine if you were there. Something about working in a group, with mirrors, helps a person learn the Hawai’ian language much faster than if I attempt to learn Hawai’ian before coming to class. There has to be a marriage of understanding and movement that is birthed out of practice, practice, practice. Dancing only with the teacher is overwhelming until I know enough Hawai’ian to start enhancing my dance, my posture, my positions. Dancing only at home ? How am I to know what “good” posture is? I need both. Both practice and lessons to become proficient.
Yoga is similar. When I practice at home I don’t tell myself “Now move your left arm forward and breath down your right side.” I could, I suppose, but I don’t. At home the whole practice is fully incorporate. I move without thinking. I move while feeling. When I first start my daily practice after my hip injury I feel constant pain. Every day, whether I do yoga or not, my pain persists. About a five out of ten – with nine being childbirth and ten being the stress fracture to my hip. As I do daily yoga my pain reduces to a two rather quickly. Then slowly edges down to a one. The first two years post incident I have only two completely pain-free days. As I learn to feel more subtle feelings beneath pain I rejoice.
(Perhaps coming at the practice from the top down is why I have never injured myself doing yoga. From the top down I mean starting my practice from a place of injury.) But I digress.
Most people begin without injuries. They begin. They seek to feel something. Being habitually disassociate from their bodies they keep moving past pleasant stretch into challenging feat and blithely into skirting damage and finally chronic pain. These people worry if they don’t feel pain they aren’t doing it “right.” After all yoga is a spiritual practice. Spirituality demands sacrifice, don’t it? The shame is, this repeat exhuberance builds scar tissue. That ain’t right. A continued practice in this manner will almost certainly end badly. Another fad I see is young women beginning yoga when pregnant. They figure (rightly so) that yoga is safer than weight lifting or boxing. Unfortunately the hormone mix experienced during pregnancy makes for soft joints and ligaments. In a goal oriented world these women believe bending further, deeper, wider, is a good thing – they create patterns of dislocation. Not good.
Take the time to learn the words. I don’t mean you have to learn Sanskrit. Even if you attend class at a place that uses all English you still have to learn the names. Sorry. I don’t make the rules, I just observe the human condition. I observe that if I tell the class to step right and take a triangle one of two things happens. 1) They step right and take a triangle. Good. Then Kumari can teach how to go deeper into the pose, how to intuit correct alignment. How to build strength, flexibility, how to avoid injury. Or? Or 2) They don’t step into triangle. They step, and then twist their heads to look over shoulders to see what I am doing. Which means I must needs go to the front of ’em and demonstrate, which is fine for beginners, those people still doing mental translation – but only beginners.
The pose itself: two feet and one hand on the floor won’t get me to enlightenment.
I have to get there by exploration. By finding the spot that is not excruciating but a gentle, loving, engaged spine extending, muscle contracting, deep breathing homage to fitness. Yoga should feel fun while you do it and good when you’re done. The after effect should linger. If the after effect is soreness – you’re doing something wrong. But if you never feel anything, don’t think that equals precision. You, my dear, are also doing something “wrong.” Lack of engagement doesn’t equal engagement. It just doesn’t. At its best yoga marries the left and right brain. I move through the sequence, which yes, represents planning and thought in the same way a piece of music has chords and harmony, I move through the sequence con affetto or affettuoso. Yes, I do. And you should too if ya know what’s good for you.
Now y’all play nice!