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.
Tomorrow, I start teaching my first prenatal class in quite a while. I look at my schedule and see that I am now teaching six classes a week. I am barely making coffee (for those of you new to the party, I became a barista when we moved to MN in 2011 since I couldn't seem to make much of a career out of yoga being new to the community and all). I will be taking my yoga show on the road in the next few months, with weekend workshops in North Dakota and Iowa. A new student is connecting me with a studio in Duluth, MN that might be amenable to a similar weekend workshop.
And at last, I am felting. I laid out a scarf last week and exhausted my body felting on Wednesday. I have a little trouble understanding how I ever made ten of these in one week a few years back, but I look forward to regaining that kind of drive and strength. Once I feel a bit more secure in my yoga career, I will finally spend a bit of energy finding the right venues for selling all this Woolynns stuff (some of it is currently just designs in my head). I'll fix up my tent/booth and get better displays. But that is still a bit further down the road.
Having this kind of time and space to create (yoga, scarves) also gives me breathing room to be more present for my family. My children may not need me to accompany them on play dates anymore, but being stuck at home all summer is not going to be the default option this year.
I'm hardly feeling like everything is all good to go, but the way is getting clearer and the possibilities keep me smiling every day as I drive from one yoga class to another, as I lay out another scarf, as I add everyone's activities to the calendar.
Today I taught a very small class. Just three of my regulars. (It has been below zero here for a couple days and not everyone is silly enough to leave the house for things like yoga class.)
I assumed our transformation work would go quickly, working with partners to remove/reduce rotation in the back leg in Side Warrior (Virabadrasana B for those of you who do Sanskrit). I should know by now that what I think will be simple usually isn't, and what I think will be hard goes easily.
So here we are looking at legs, and I'm aware that one of the women is not getting what we're supposed to be looking at. It isn't important to me that she see it --- it is the first time I've ever pointed this rotation work out --- but she clearly is bothered. When her turn comes, her emotions are at the surface from frustration. And she is already holding tight to every instruction I have ever given in this pose. I try to tell her this isn't intended to change any of that, just to refine it. No good. By the time we have done "helping" her in the pose, she is so disconnected from her body and quite upset.
Once, years ago, I had the same response to too many instructions and tweaking. So many that I ended up cranky and disconnected. I looked at my student and very quickly put her through the same transformation work she had just done, only with minimal instruction and staying in the pose for a very short time. She stood up, calm, content, one with her body.
Life lessons learned today:
For the very cerebral, too much time and too much instruction only puts you further into your head.
As a teacher, know your students. Do not feed their imbalances.
Which leads me to this: All those ways you approach life may have served you well, but when they get in the way, can you change your approach? If you keep pushing through challenges, are there times when maybe you should just ease up? Can you persevere if it is your natural inclination to walk away from difficulty? Do you know yourself well enough to know your patterns of approaching life's challenges?
Watching how you approach a yoga pose can teach you a lot about your habits and patterns of mind. Taking yoga off the mat can happen while you're on the mat.
I have this friend who inspires me. I do not want to follow in her footsteps. While I enjoy hooping, it is not my joy. I do not necessarily need to become a public speaker like her, though I am good at that. What she inspires me to do is to find my joy.
Joy. That has been a meager commodity in recent years. My family was struggling financially. My husband was struggling professionally. And I was struggling to land in a new city and create a new life that I was determined would look much like the one I left behind in Michigan.
So here I am, nearly two years after my move, and I am finding my way to joy again. My days look nothing and everything like they used to. I get up every morning and walk a dog in temperatures where no sane person should venture. I drive children to early morning practices, evening games, concerts and competitions. I have learned how to make a mean latte at the coffee shop where I still work a shift or two a week. I haven't managed to felt anything in over 18 months. I get on the mat several days a week to practice and learn from my body. I still don't have the yoga teaching schedule I want. But I do have new perspective.
One day last year, I sat down with Theresa Rose (yes, the one in the video above), and said quite clearly that I knew my old methods for re-creating my previous life weren't working. I couldn't figure out how to get over the brick wall in my way and and did she have any ideas. Now, Theresa has taken my classes and worked with me privately to learn to free up her body to move more fully with her hoop. She knows what I do and how good I am at it. Through her eyes, I was able to see what exactly it is that I am passionate about. And she helped me see new ways to bring that passion forth.
I have let go of assumptions about what I do and where it will best be enjoyed. I have reached out in ways I never had imagined and find myself creating a future that includes teaching weekend workshops in neighboring states; mentoring teachers interested in Eischens Yoga; renting spaces to create my own floating studio, Eischens Yoga MN; bringing a practice to address back pain to corporations. And you know what? I am actually doing all those things. They are not some distant future. They are now.
At a recent photo shoot, I realized that I feel most joyous in yoga not while doing certain poses, but while helping others experience something extraordinary in their own bodies. I asked the photographer to shoot me while I worked on other people, while I talked and explained and gave physical resistance to someone in a pose. Those photos were the most beautiful and joyous of the bunch.
Joy. Yep, I'm finding it again. And with it comes freedom and time and knowing I have enough, knowing I am enough. And guess who is planning on felting again this Spring?
Oh, Joyous Movement.
Deep, and not so deep, thoughts on bodies, movement, yoga, art, shoes, parenting, dogs. You know, life.