End of the Beginning

My last class teaching “Begin Here Now” is tonight! Why don’t you join me? There’s no better place to get the basics, except maybe this website, lol. As tonight is the last night, possibly my last time seeing you I’m trotting out the Holy Grail of Yoga Basics: proprioception. In Sanskrit there are lots of concepts that touch on this but in English we have one nice handy word. Proprioception: relating to stimuli that are produced and perceived within an organism, especially those connected with the position and movement of the body. Dictionary.com helpfully suggests: compare with exteroceptive and interoceptive.

Perception is sensing what is around me. Proprioception is sensing what is within me. Exteroception relates to stimuli that are external to an organism. Interoception relates to stimuli produced within an organism, especially in the gut and other internal organs. Which means? When the yoga teacher says “Feel your sitting bones” the perceptive student reaches down with her hands to grab her own butt. The proprioceptive student makes no discernible movement. She allows her attention to rest in her sitting bones. She re-cognizes the sensation of sitting. It takes practice. Most of us sit without thinking, without feeling, without cognitive feedback. Exteroception may aid us in feeling our sitting bones. I jump right up when I sit on something pointy. Interoception can also have an effect, if my butt is sore I have an enhanced awareness of my sitting bones.

The yogis address proprioception in their philosophy via kosha, chakra, dristi, mudra, pranayama, vayu, all sorts of angles all referencing the ability to awaken internally. To be aware of one’s feelings and emotions is a powerful skill. Without conscious awareness I may slump my shoulders in sadness, blocking my chest cavity, decreasing my lung capacity, basically causing all sorts of problems that Western medicine would address one by one by one. Perhaps anti-depressant pills for the sadness, coupled with talk therapy. Or oxygen therapy for my lungs. Or artificial hormone replacement therapy to address the root cause of the sadness and so on. Yoga doesn’t promise to fix all ills but it does give me a second set of tools to treat dysfunction. Through yoga I might learn to sit up straighter. Maybe my ostensible goal is merely to do better in pranayama class. It doesn’t matter. The end result of breathing more effectively is feeling better. That is the “aha” moment.

People rarely hit me up for yoga lessons to increase their “proprioception.” They want to feel better. They want to feel good. Or at the very least, they want the hurt to stop hurting. As a realtor I know what people think they want isn’t always what they really need to solve their problem. Hampered by language people articulate as well they can, bless their hearts – but if detective Kumari can sleuth out the real need I service so much better. For example, I might think I need very relaxing restorative yoga class to burn off the stress of my very stimulating desk job only to find out lying still is incredibly annoying. I’m leaving class feeling more keyed up than when I walked in. I need a yoga class for my yoga class! In this case I need a harder, faster practice to burn off my potential stress bottled up inside from my day job. The restorative may be helpful later – – but triage declares a flow class.

After several weeks, days or months of flow I might be quiescent enough to consider a “Begin Here Now” introduction to alignment. That’s the pattern right? Most people start with their feet, building a yoga practice that places pranayama last at the long list of gifts from yoga. (I already know how to breathe, so why would I want to learn how to do that?) What’s the purpose? What’s the goal? Our Western mind might even ask “How do I ‘win’?” Asana is so much more overt. Until injury. Injury causes the average student to rethink the important of proprioception. After all doesn’t Kumari always say “Nothing in yoga should hurt” ? And “If it hurts you are doing something wrong” ? And her personal favorite “Pain is a messenger” ?

Teachers cue through out yoga classes. Some more than others, but few fail to cue at all. This patter includes obvious actions i.e. “step forward with your right foot” less obvious actions “draw up from your pelvic floor” and really, freakin’ arcane instructions like “lengthen your tailbone down” and “lift your arches.” I for one, had no idea how I could lift my arches. And as for the tailbone, I figure it’s a bone, I can’t make it any longer than it already is. Not to mention how confused I was by the lingo “breathe into” as in “breathe into your leg” “breathe into your arm.” Over time I came to understand what these teachers were saying. But my sympathies still lie with the uninitiated. The teachers intend to convey: simultaneous with your exhale focus entirely on your arm, focus using proprioception not external perception. You can hear how clunky this is. No mystery, right? There’s no mystery why yoga teachers started making up their own slang to describe actions that repeat myriad times in a single class.

So. In sum. If you learn pranayama or, let’s make this simple, if you even just learn to pay attention to your own breathing you will have opened a door into greater introspection. Most people enter a higher level of proprioception through this avenue. There are other ways. You can, for example, spend long amounts of time in a pose – yin style. Long enough to stop worrying about the gross external elements and start noticing the subtle internal effects. You can also take the Ashtanga route. Do the same sequence on a daily basis. If nothing else changes but you, you have a very useful diagnostic tool. You can read books, take lectures but the bottom line is proprioception teaches alignment better than any other system known to human kind because proprioception is the only system tailor made to unique individuals. Your teacher might insist your back must arch higher, but what if she doesn’t know you have a rod in your back? Do you see what I mean?

I mean I’m a teacher, a good teacher at that. And there are many, many wonderful teachers. Some you fall in love with. Some you love to hate, for they push you so hard and you are grateful for the challenge. But a teacher’s real role should not be to create a religion of two. A teacher should not stop at giving you a proficient practice. A teacher, a real teacher, must teach you how to teach yourself – so that one day, maybe not so far in the future, you understand what you are doing well enough to explain it to someone else. That is when you will know you have arrived!

Now y’all play nice

Sat Nam


3 comments on “End of the Beginning

  1. This is a really incredible post. I’ve never really thought about the idea of proprioception and the unchanging indicators to see how we’ve changed. Really valuable.

  2. the tree limb bedecked with green stretches eternally in concert with the ridgeline of the snowy mountains behind, place here your thoughts to slide across the natural curve of living. love your selfie, and you!

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