I've been teaching yoga for over two decades now. Every time someone who has taken other yoga classes joins my class, one of the first questions they ask me is, "Where will you be standing?" When I tell them I will be moving around the room, this is clearly not a satisfactory answer. But after that first class, when the new student has received actual teaching pertinent to their specific way of moving in their body, the light bulb goes off.
When I started teaching yoga in 1996, I was teaching in YMCAs and corporate offices. There were no stereos, and the portability of music on your phone was far in the future. I never brought a boombox along. During class (Ashtanga at the time) and even during Savasana there was silence. A woman who took my earliest classes later told me that during her first class, the silence was agitating. But by the third week of classes, she realized that the end of yoga class was the only time she ever had silence in her life. She began to relish that time, that peace and quiet.
Twenty years later, I still hold to that practice of not using music. I have even more reasons now than I did then. Every restaurant, every store, every open plaza has piped in music. Most restaurants also have big screen TVs all around. You cannot even get gas without having ads playing at the pump. Silence may be challenging, but it is missing from all our lives. Even when we can get away from the TV, the music, there is the humming of appliances, computers, air conditioning and heating. I may not be able to do anything about the latter, but I can at least lessen the noise by removing music from the practice.
Early on I discovered that whenever I did try and use music, that no one kind of music, no one song will resonate with the entire class. I'd rather have the entire class sort their way through silence than make one or two students have to sort their way through a song that agitates rather than soothes.
Lastly, I know many yoga teachers pride themselves on their playlist and timing music to coordinate with certain parts of class. I find it very impressive, and if it's the only way you're going to get through a practice, by all means rock out. When I used to run, I admit there were some runs that simply wouldn't have happened without my iPod.
But I leave you with the thoughts of a runner who got me to stop running with music playing (most of the time):
I'd posit the same to be true of being on the mat without music.
Some of what follows are teachings I was handed by brilliant women and men before me. Some of it I cultivated over my own two-plus decades of teaching.
1) "Just listen to your body" is not a reasonable instruction for beginners. If that person knew what to do, they wouldn't be coming to you. Not to mention the cultural indoctrination to push through, override, or otherwise ignore pain signals that have taught most people to stop listening to their body. (I have written on this topic at length. If you want to read more, click here.)
2) Yoga done to music is fine, but it can prevent someone from learning to listen to their body. It was practiced for decades without any musical accompaniment. It's not that strange.
3) Leading practice is not the same as teaching.
Also: Teaching a lot of classes does not equal practicing a lot.
4) If your goal is solely bigger/fancier/bendier movement, that is ego. That is where you are more likely to get hurt. If your goal is to understand the movement and to find the resistance to the movement, that is meditation.
5) Fancy yoga isn't advanced yoga. Many people who do fancy poses could already do something close to those poses before they walked into a yoga studio.
6) Using a wall or a prop is not remedial yoga. Coming out of a pose when you're done is not remedial yoga. In fact, knowing you are not ready for a fancy pose and need a wall or prop; knowing you're at the end of your endurance; that's what I call self-awareness. That's what I call advanced yoga.
7) Yoga classes self-select. If the teacher leads a practice, the students who enjoy that practice will stay. The student who doesn't move the same way the teacher does will decide yoga isn't for them and may never come back. If they keep at it in spite of the challenge, eventually they will get frustrated at lack of progress. Unless they find a teacher who actually teaches, they, too will get frustrated and quit.
8) Irreverence is good. Creating community matters more to me than creating a sacred space of silence. In my experience, laughter promotes breathing. Community decreases competition. Both of which lead to more self-awareness, less pose-envy.
9) Flowing through a series is a wonderful way to practice. But if you never slow down to observe the effects an individual pose, you may never learn which poses are nourishing you, which are helping you breathe or creating ease in a tense area of the body. Likewise, you may never know which poses are depleting or even injuring you.
10) Yoga doesn't cure anything.
This will not be a three-sentence post like the other Creativity Break posts.
I cannot believe I already couldn't maintain a daily practice past a week. If I'm honest, I didn't even get past the full week. I counted movement on Day 8 that is part of my normal day as my practice because I did a bit more of it. Yeah, no.
Let me give you an idea of what my days look like, movement-wise, and how it's easy to think I've practiced when I really haven't:
I am increasingly teaching about all those ways in which movement throughout the day matters as much if not MORE than a specified period of daily exercise with the remainder spent sitting at a desk or behind the wheel or on the couch. I believe in the vital importance of moving more of your parts in more ways throughout more of the day. And in that respect, I practice what I preach.
So why do I want so badly to get back on my mat?
Getting on the mat is physical work. It's a chance to really inhabit this body that I've spent a lifetime moving. I've moved onstage and in private. I've moved to tell stories and to teach others. I feel intelligent in my body. I feel graceful. I feel powerful.
I learn on the mat and through my body. Getting on the mat has given me insight into injuries (ankle, pelvis, shoulder) and helped me heal them. Getting on the mat can be playful or challenging or calming. It is inward work.
I spent my first three decades sweating in dance classes and exercise classes. Movement up until then had either been performance or otherwise externally driven. I got serious about yoga in my late 20s and immediately understood its therapeutic benefits. When running hurt my knees, I got on my mat and figured out at least one of the problems. In my mid-40s, I ran a 10K with my sights set on a half-marathon. The damage to my ankle joint over decades of dance injuries barely survived that 10K. It took the next four years of slow, diligent work on the mat to unwind my movement patterns and re-train my leg, ankle, foot so that I could walk without pain again. Only after all that effort on the mat could I know that running or skipping wouldn't hurt my joints (though I have not tried to run a mile even still).
I've spent the past four years using my body knowledge on the mat again, this time to recover from a frozen shoulder. I still don't have full range of motion. And I'm again in the process of unwinding the habits of decades to relearn how to use an even more complicated joint.
I have all this experience of utilizing my yoga and body knowledge for my own betterment. I used to inspire my personal practice by studying with my teachers (one now deceased, one far away) and colleagues (all far away since I moved). I used to have a set time of day. I used to have local peers, students who didn't need me to guide them but appreciated sharing space while we all practiced.
I'm starting to wonder if all my (necessary) therapeutic use of yoga has removed play and fun from getting on the mat. I don't have peers to practice with here, which I had before I moved to MN. In Michigan, colleagues and students and I would get together and practice individually in the same space. Maybe I have to create that somehow here. It wouldn't be daily, but it might be enough to motivate me to do it on my own between times.
Just sitting with this today, sitting with my unwillingness, digging through why I have and have not practiced during periods of my life, makes it clear that it isn't outer accountability I need. Even declaring a 40-day commitment publicly didn't do it. I lied to myself and to the public by Day 8.
The motivation is going to have to come from me.
I have looked at my calendar. Rather than writing "Practice" on each day, I carefully chose specific times each weekday and wrote the actual time down. An appointment with myself. Some appointments are 30 minutes, some 45, some 20. I tell my students, it doesn't need to be 90 minutes to be a practice. Time to listen to my own teaching.
I do not know if this will work any better than what I've been doing. But I am done with my rebellious, "I won't" attitude.
I keep thinking of something a friend shared with me. "Paint until you feel like painting."
Yep. I'm going to practice until I feel like practicing.
Getting refocused with the Creativity Break. Day 1.
[And in case you read the first day of the Creativity Break, here is a photo of the broken Sarasvati that gave me the impulse to do this in the first place.]
Recognizing (yet again) how my active end range of motion isn't anywhere near my passive end range. Arm and shoulder work trying to unwind some fiercely held movement habits. Taught my husband how to help with one of those.
It's been an office, email, phone call day. I won't call it a practice, but I made a concerted effort to move my arms and shoulders frequently today to counter all that desk work. I plan to do more active end-range work all weekend.
Creativity Break - Day 6
Found myself with a bonus 45 minutes. Treated myself to Free Movement with Movement Parallels Life reinforcing that my ROM (range of motion) ends way sooner than most people's. Ended with some hip and leg work on the floor.
I'm exhausted, run-down, and hoping I'm not getting a cold. My practice tonight is short, but challenging. I've been watching folks play with blankets and sliding and thought I'd give it a try.
Coming home after a weekend retreat is a good reminder of all the ways it's hard to get on the mat in daily life. Mondays have four clients, two classes, one school pick-up, lots of driving, plus laundry and dog walks. I spent some time tonight after all that with a little wall dancing courtesy of @movementfluency (Instagram) and her #unprops challenge which led me to some flowing, calming, ground work.
A long drive home today, unloading, unpacking, laundry, spending time with my son home from college, meeting one of his best friends, and dinner with my in-laws. I still have work to do to prep for this week and catch up from last week. So my hands are getting to work it out: in the car, sitting and visiting, at dinner, and during computer breaks.
Lots of short videos from colleagues for inspiration led to a lot of ground work. Then a lot of standing poses as prep for teaching two workshops. Last, I gave myself the opportunity to take a class, wherein I realized yet again it's time for me to own the title Master Teacher.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.