“It’s no one thing we do. It’s all of it.” Asaf Bitton.
Green. I call him “Green.” This certain kind of person goes full-speed ahead. Green is fun student because he accepts challenge with aplomb, follows directions and doesn’t fear setting up at the front of the room. Green means “go!” He revs his engine, searching for yoga tasks. Enthusiasm is no problem. The issue is body un-awareness. He recognizes only one sensation. Pain. This eager student tends into poses until he feels ouch. If his sensed pain isn’t sufficient stimulation he’ll move from ouch to ooowwww. No pain no gain – right? He’s often tight in the hamstrings, weak in the psoas – and always the first to ask “Where should I be feelin’ it?” Because if he’s not in pain he figures he’s doing something wrong. Greens usually make progress pretty quickly due to their inherent inquisitive nature, work ethic and commitment to the program. That is, until they get sidelined with injury.
Yoga should never hurt. Pain is your body’s alert system. If you feel pain something is wrong.
Instead of searching for pain broaden your sensory awareness. Expand your sensation lexicon to include: comfortable, uncomfortable, itchy, achy, stimulating, tight, engaged, constricted, loose, relaxed, warm, hot, cool, cold, stretchy, supple, firm, unyielding, yielding, fuzzy, sharp, dull, full, expansive – – and so on. Once Green wraps his brain around subtle feelings he’ll balance his postures. The prana won’t coagulate around his joints. It will spread freely like a finely misting spray, or work elegantly along the lines of his nervous system, or warm him soundly like a wool blanket. Greens are great at yoga although they usually don’t think so because they may not be able to touch their toes. They love quantifiable markers, not just in yoga, in life.
The polar opposite of Greens are Reds. Red as in stop. Red camps out at the back of the room hoping I will not see her. She rarely listens to cues. She’s naturally loose and believes this makes her advanced. Red embodies a flaccid practice. Perhaps she figures yoga is a “safe” exercise, a soft place to land. This kind of student has no trouble getting her palms to the floor but nothing can induce her to firm up. Try as I might to describe muscle tone she fails to engage. If the class stays in a body for more than a second she’s squirming, wiggling, endlessly moving. There’s no stillness in her yoga not even in savasana. These people lie with their eyes open, fidgeting.
This sort of student likes yoga. Likes it a lot. If her lifeless floppiness enables her to touch her toes she believes she’s “good” at yoga. She may be the envy of her friends. If the music’s good, and she’s never gotten hurt doing yoga there’s no impetuous to take care. Yoga studios love ’em, sell them lots of spandex, incense, and books on yoga. They’re the mainstay of the yoga movement, lithe young girls – who with their natural flexibility are never called upon to be vibrant. Lord knows I’m not here to demonize them. I am merely pointing out that to have an unengaged practice is no better than one that seeks to hit the wall. “No pain” doesn’t trump a painful practice. The point is to find integrity in asana, tone and tension balanced neatly. To find the place where real sensation is truly experienced, a wholly physical practice that one is aware of cognitively, intelligently.
It’s not one thing: touching my toes, that makes me a proficient yogi. It’s the all of it.
I came into the practice as a young curious person who without impediment practices happily for years and years, intermittently. I notice when I cease practicing I can no longer touch my toes. I notice when I re-start that in less than two weeks I’m back up to snuff. Touching my toes is marker of sorts. Of sorts? I mean as a young person I didn’t care for the gymnastics of yoga as much as I was interested in the metaphysics. The lucid dreaming. The astral projection. The siddhis, the benefits I received from meditation were highly enjoyable. If you’ve never thought of meditation as part of your yoga, Start Now! It’s the icing on the cake.
After my injury I join the ranks of the third group of people who start yoga: the impaired.
Impaired people proceed with caution. I’m not red, nor green but rather moving at the speed I deem safe under my condition. I no longer consider myself someone who does yoga, not when I can barely sit in a car for 15 minutes. My pain was persistent. Sleeping was fitful due to my inability to find a comfortable position. Basically I operate on exhaustion for months. Until a kind friend, I’ve blogged on this before, reminds me I can use yoga for physical therapy. When I remind him I can’t even fold forward he replies – it’s not about that. He adjusts me into a triangle pose. My body remembers. I have to admit the extension feels freeing. The expansion intoxicating. I don’t look pretty doing yoga, or technically correct – which doesn’t matter. I’m creating tensegrity with my muscle tone and my breath. This leads to a daily practice. When I say I “feel better,” I mean that quite literally.
My first yoga teacher is obviously not my first first. I’d had a lesson here and there, but never a relationship with anyone who watched my progress and guided me. In that vein I can only say I’ve only had a couple of teachers beyond myself. Having absorbed what they had to give me I furthered my education with books, workshops, and lectures. Students who start yoga from a place of impairment can turn out to be some of the most satisfied students if they come into it with an agenda as I did. Every day when the yoga teacher said “set an intention” I would silently say I want to stop hurting. After yoga class I felt better. I slept more soundly, ate more intuitively, and trusted my own judgement again. Voila. I moved from yellow toward green.
You may not be a clear red, green or yellow. You might be some combination of two or three. My point is, and I do have one: is that they are all good. Each as a charm and a pitfall, a front and a back like two sides to a coin. Greens have fabulous enthusiasm. That needn’t be curbed. They only need to learn focus and attention to have a steady effective practice. Reds, bless their hearts, have enviable gifts. They only need to muster tension, tone, sensation, awareness, to build strength and endurance. Moving into stillness will be a valuable experience to someone who loves yoga already but has never actually engaged into it. And yellows? They need to practice a strong sense of self-preservation. Specific injury creates unique needs. Don’t be afraid to study on your own, buy a series of private lessons, or make your own modifications in a classroom.
Now y’all play nice!