All through grade school, I was one of the shortest kids in my class. I hit 5' 6 1/2" sometime in high school. I grew late, with the boys. When I was a performer, we listed height and weight on our resumes. That 1/2" looked clunky on paper so I edged my height upward to 5'7" on paper. It wasn't true but my resume looked cleaner and no one ever put their honest weight either so it seemed minor.
On numerous occasions over the past decade, a student has come in to class after a recent physical and told me that they were 3/4", an inch, even 1 1/2" taller. The common factor for all of these folks was taking Eischens Yoga. Is it possible that yoga made them grow taller? Shoe sizes often change for folks as they begin working unrestricted by shoes or socks, and their foot bones start to spread more fully on the floor. But actual change in height? Why not? Over time, gravity and poor use of the muscles around the joints contributes to the compression of the skeleton, and with it the loss of height we expect with age. The practice of Eischens Yoga asks that we use the muscles in a more balanced way so as to better support the skeleton, and to allow energy to flow through the body. It also creates space between the joints. We see it often in classes after transformation work, someone who is visibly taller or has more space between their head and their shoulders.
I no longer am surprised by these moments in class or by the post-doctor appointment announcement. I love the joy in someone's face and voice as they tell me about their newfound height and that they "haven't been this tall since high school."
I have been pretty proud to retain my height all this time, even as my friends and peers are starting to lose height. I figured that was as good as it got, me not shrinking. Recently, I had my first physical in a couple years. I have been working on the mat over this same period of time on finally getting space between my pelvis and thigh bones. And you know what? I am now officially 5' 7". In my late 40s, I grew half an inch. Maybe that lie on my resume wasn't a lie, but a prophesy?
Step your feet wide and parallel. Turn your front foot out 90º. Turn the back heel out just slightly. On an exhale, bend the knee bringing it directly over the front ankle. As you hold this pose, ask yourself this: What muscles are working?
If I told you that all of your legs muscles and your lower belly should be firm, and your upper body should feel light and easy, is this true for you?
Standing poses such as Virabadrasana II are intended to wake up the legs. Frequently, people in my classes are surprised to find they aren't using their leg muscles much at all. And once those muscles wake up, the next surprise is that they can't hold the pose as long as they usually do. Most surprisingly, even though the legs get tired while in the pose, is the feeling of energy flowing through the legs when the pose is over. Effort in the pose leads to effortlessness afterwards.
The kinds of feedback given in this pose range from shaping the feet, to aligning the front knee, to getting the legs to work differently above and below the joints, to finding a way to create ease and openness in the chest and collar bones, to engaging the abdominals. Much of this work is very hard to describe. Verbal and written instructions often confuse the brain and get people even more stuck in their heads. So we work with hands and blocks, using resistance to wake up the body and get out of the brain. Touch and resistance are elemental in understanding the poses in Eischens Yoga (See "Don't Try This at Home" from May 2013).
One day, I hope to have photos that can display this kind of feedback. For now, it is the hands-on teaching in workshops and classes that demonstrate most clearly how to work in this pose.
See you in class?
I just taught my 10th and 11th classes of the week. We did transformation work about 45 minutes into each class, working on the shoulders and collar bones and how to better align them. Transformation work is a hallmark of Eischens Yoga classes. Today, we were looking at the shoulder blades: how far apart they rested on the back, whether they were on the same plane or angled, how symmetrical their placement. Then each group worked in Prone Mountain, one person in the pose with partners applying pressure on the triceps, wrists, and crown of the head. As each person did the work and then stood up, shoulder blades settled into better positioning. The change was frequently visible to the group. But better than that, each person stood up and felt taller, or less tense in the shoulders and/or upper back after receiving tactile feedback from their group. And then it happened. The Question.
I never know who will ask it. It usually doesn't even happen after everyone is done. Someone very excited by what they are seeing in their partner might ask it. Someone feeling pretty amazing after doing the work might be the one. But invariably someone will ask, "How do I do this at home?"
I am never surprised by this question. I have been the one to put this query forth myself, back when I first started studying Eischens Yoga. (We still called it High Energy Yoga back then.) I actually usually have an answer, an approximation of what we just did that can be done at home alone, but that is to lose the point of what happened. Why we do this work with partners in class is because we aren't home alone. We take advantage of each other's presence for several reasons, and these reasons why we do transformation work move from the obvious to the subtle.
Added weight increases the impact of the work.
If you want to develop your biceps, you can do simple bicep curls. If you do these over a long enough period of time, with enough repetitions, you will tone and strengthen your biceps. But if you really want to see your biceps change in strength, you begin adding weights, lifting smaller hand-weights and increasing the weight as the biceps get stronger. In yoga, ideally you can press into your own skin for resistance. But most of us can't feel our own skin, let alone press into it. So by adding a partners' hands' pressure, you can start to bring your body into better positioning. The partner isn't putting you into alignment; they are giving you a place to push into, which in turn strengthens the muscles that then hold your skeleton in proper placement.
Seeing another in order to understand yourself.
When you begin to look closely at other bodies, you have a chance to learn about yourself. As you watch your partner and notice one shoulder blade in a different place than the other, you also begin to glimpse how we all have imbalances. You can take that image of another back and superimpose it upon yourself. Then when it is your turn, and your partner says your shoulder blades are asymmetrical in the same way as (or differently from) the previous person's, there is a clear image of your own back through someone else's eyes and descriptions, but also through your experience of looking.
Working together to create community.
I cannot count how many times I have attended classes where no one talks to anyone else, where there is so much competition as students vie for attention, or struggle to perform the best pose. (Yeah, it may be called a yoga class, but that doesn't mean we all leave our competitive nature out the door.) But when you have to get to know a few others in class, really know them, you learn who has an injury. You discover that someone is struggling to get out of their over-analytical brain, or just overcame a difficult period in life. You see what other's challenges are, and you begin to cheer on Mel whose back hurt so much six months ago she couldn't bend very far, but now she has her hands on the floor in a forward fold. You applaud Sarah who has found increased endurance and can hold poses longer without locking her elbows. And you cheer on Nicki who lifts up into a tripod headstand from a Wide Angle FWFold, even though that is not in your own foreseeable future. Class becomes intimate and supportive and the competition gets left behind.
Learning to trust your own eyes and learning to trust your partners.
Trust comes from being willing to be open. Open to change, open to failure, to loss, to love, to acceptance, to success. Working with partners in the classroom broadens trust. You begin to trust your own eyes as you learn to see. You tell your partners what you observe and they begin to trust your words, your vision. And in that moment, you and your partners begin a new path. And this path allows for deeper connections between people. But transformation work is more than just observing and stating what is seen. It is hands-on, a place where hands meet with another person's muscles; where there is such matched resistance that neither person is moving, but both are working. It is a physical connection. It takes trust a step further.
Touch is essential between humans. Everyone knows about the laboratory tests using orphaned monkeys and placing one with a metal, robotic "mother" and how damaging the lack of touch is for that monkey's development. So we know touch matters. But Americans touch each other less than people in most other industrial nations. We deprive ourselves of the healing that comes with placing hands on a friend's shoulder, giving a hug or a kiss. We deprive ourselves of human contact. It doesn't really matter whether this reticence to touch comes from fear (of disease, of offending, of intimacy) or from indifference. What is important is to increase our physical contact, to break through whatever barriers we have to touching. Working with partners is a safe way to find those physical connections. Maybe you are placing your hands on someone's shins or triceps. Maybe you touch the top of someone else's head. Maybe you help move someone's toes. And in that moment, there is possibility. Possibility for change for the person you are touching, but possibility for you to change as well.
So how can you do this at home? You can't. You can practice yoga by yourself. You can use tactile memory to find the alignment you are seeking. You can move toward physical and mental balance. But the yoga that occurs when working in transformation, that is only done in concert with others. Come to class. Get together with a friend to exchange feedback. Teach your partner how to push on your shins (or forearms or heels ...). But find a way to work with people. Transformation work is essential. It happens in community. It makes community. And it is life-changing.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.