In April, I had to have an ovarian cyst removed. It was laparoscopic surgery and I was supposed to be back to normal activities after a few days. I was not back to normal. It took some time and effort to convince my doctor that something wasn’t right, but eventually I got the hernia diagnosis I had anticipated, and on May 28th, I will have surgery to repair it.
This word, detachment, leads to my topic du jour. Usually referred to as non-attachment, Aparigraha is the last yama or moral guideline outlined in Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga. The other yamas are Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), and Brahmacharya (moderation). I use the word detachment because I find something compelling about the active form of this word rather than the passive “non-attachment.” I’m sure that says something about me, but that is not today’s rabbit hole.
In January, I usually choose a word of the year to underline or focus my intentions. I chose the word detachment after the upheaval and enforced adaptability of 2020. Clearly I knew what I was doing when I chose that word. I have continued to learn more about teaching online. I have regrouped and switched from rarely demonstrating when teaching in person, to demonstrating all the time online, to not demonstrating at all as I recovered from the last surgery, to easing back into demonstrating this past week, to getting ready to teach solely with verbal instructions again after another surgery.
No one wants to return to surgery so soon. No one wants to shift their methods back and forth numerous times over a period of weeks. And now we can also add the gradual shift from online classes back to in-person classes. This shift off of Zoom is happening at widely different times (and in some cases not happening at all). I hear myself responding to questions about in-person classes from students, some of whom want online options still and some of whom have been itching to get back to in-person for months. I am breathing in and out and letting go some more, and it feels like a continuation of what I’ve been doing for over a year now, what we’ve all been doing for over a year now.
Letting go of how things were, adapting to the latest plot twist. I know I am not alone. I watch my family working through these changes, and my friends and acquaintances. Even though I am relatively healthy and sane, I am generally worn out. I recently read an article in the NY Times on languishing, a mental state between depressed and thriving. The author noted that a large portion of the population is currently inhabiting this space. If this resonates with you, I see you. And if you can manage a bit of detachment as your world remains unsteady, I am doing the same. Cheers to all of us as we navigate Aparigraha, as we practice non-attachment or detachment or whatever word you choose to describe how you are managing.
Now, take a breath and let it go.
If you have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, there is an imbalance in your intestinal function. You have to learn what to eat to create balance in your gut. Once you have achieved balance, and your intestinal tract is working better, you don't get to stop watching what you eat. If you go back to foods that irritate you, all those terrible IBS symptoms return.
What does this have to do with yoga and movement, you say?
Daily activities easily bring your body into imbalance through repeated movement patterns. And most of those patterns are repeated over decades. I frequently hear that it takes three weeks to create a new habit. If you can stop biting your nails for three weeks, you can probably stop for the long haul. Shouldn't the same be true of movement patterns? Movement patterns are not the same as habits such as nail-biting. Picture the position of your shoulders and upper body when you drive, cook, read, work on a computer, pretty much everything. Arms in front of you, shoulders rounded. Do this for years, as we all do, and muscles get very good at maintaining this position.
I can teach you ways to rearrange your upper body, to build strength to counter the way you've been holding yourself. But doing that a few minutes a day can only do so much to counter the misalignment created when you spend several hours a day in that rounded forward, arms-in-front-of-you position.
Recently, a few different clients asked me how long until they don't have to pay attention to the positioning of their feet. All of them were relieved to discover that many years into this work, I still have to consciously place my feet throughout the day. It's not that I'm bad at the proper alignment. It's that my long-held patterns of turning my feet out are well-practiced. This is true for most of us.
Working on alignment isn't about restricting how you move. Nor is working on alignment a practice you can do for three weeks and then be done. Working on alignment is about becoming conscious of how you are moving, standing, sitting, and then taking steps to shift into other positions. It is about recognizing the ways in which your movement patterns create imbalances. The more often you shift out of the way you usually move, the more often you create new movement patterns. And the more often you do that, the more opportunities to bring balance back into the body.
Now, back to the IBS analogy. If you come to me with pain, I will give you work to do to relieve that pain. If you find that pain goes away after a few weeks of doing the work, that's wonderful. If that pain is due to movement patterns, you will likely do that rehabilitative work for a very long time. And if you stop, the pain may well return.
Without changing the culture of cars and chairs and flat, level surfaces to stand on, without limiting harmful footwear and sedentary-ness, restorative work will be yours (and mine) to do for the rest of our lives.
Keep doing the work. I'm right there with you.
In conversation with my friend and assistant, Kim, I started dipping into teaching principles I've drawn on for decades. Some come from my former dance teachers. Some from high school teachers I had. Some are ideas from my yoga teachers, Roger and Kari, and some from other yoga and movement colleagues.
So here goes. A few thoughts on pedagogy and yoga that I've adapted over 23 years of teaching:
Finally, I have taken a former dance teacher's ingredients for what makes a good dance class and transformed them for my yoga classes:
I have no idea if this list of ideas about yoga and teaching is of interest to you. But I have so many recent failed blog attempts because I had to get all this out of my head.
NOTE: Related blog post on my heretical yoga thoughts can be read here:
I often talk to my classes about taking what your learn on the mat off the mat. This has layers of meaning.
1) Discovering a movement pattern that is leading to/feeding an imbalance.
If you pay attention on the mat, you just might discover habitual movement patterns that are preventing you from recovering from an injury, causing an injury, or are creating an imbalance that may in time cause an injury. This information can be used in your outside of class time. Once you know that you externally rotate one foot, you might well spot that rotation in how you walk or how you stand when you are waiting in a line. And you just might be able to make changes to your physical habits that go beyond what you do in class.
2) Discovering an approach to your practice that may be reflected in other areas of your life.
Do you push hard through pain? Do you constantly readjust your pose? Do you move gradually toward a challenging pose? Do you poo-poo "gentler" work? Do you compare yourself to others? How much do you want to bet that you do that in other aspects of your life? (I personally wouldn't bet against that if I were you.) It's simple: If you are busy watching what everyone else is doing on the mat, you are probably doing the same in other spheres of your life. If you are pushing past your physical limits on the mat, overriding pain warnings, you probably take on too much and neglect your health off the mat as well. It is worth noting your approach in class and seeing where that same approach is showing up in the other arenas.
3) Cultivating self-awareness of one kind fosters self-awareness of other kinds
As you become more honest with yourself on the mat, don't be surprised if that spills over into your entire life. I'm not saying practicing yoga/alignment/movement will solve all your problems. It won't. But becoming clear about a fear you have or a catching a limiting way of talking about yourself can give you opportunities to change what no longer serves you on and off the mat.
Changing what no longer serves you.
That's the whole point of getting on the mat, isn't it?
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.