Progress in Yoga

“3Things You’re Doing that are Holding You Back in your Yoga Practice.” -approximate headline for an article on FB that Nikki, my wife, read to me a couple weeks ago

“What would progress look like in this pose?” -a student a couple of weeks ago asked in class about the current Pose of the Year – the “Twisted Hitchhiker” (a student suggested that name for it)

(Those are the inspiration for this writing.)

When Nikki read that above quote to me, I answered, “Not doing yoga, and what are the other 2?” in all seriousness and partly in jest.  Truly, not doing yoga is probably the best way to not progress in yoga.  Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.  Beyond that, there’s probably a number of things that we could argue are stymying further progress, though next on my list would probably be “not doing it ‘enough’,” perhaps an obvious next choice.

Isn’t that true of anything?  For example, before I made the terrifying leap to “full time” yoga teaching (long ago), I had to come to the (obvious) realization that what was holding me back from doing it was simply NOT doing it, meaning to do it I just needed to DO IT!  (So yes, Nike was onto something with “their” slogan.)  After seeing that, I could more easily make the jump.  I’m sure each one of us has some personal example of that in our own lives.

(I just felt the need to “weigh in” on the subject since it WAS on FB, which is the main “news” source of some people.  If you find that you are needing to make (again?) the leap to more regular yoga practice, I had previously written around this issue and you can [re-?] read that here.)

Then that same week, one long-time student and (often) VERY regular student asked, while in the Twisted Hitchhiker, that great question, “What would progress look like in this pose?”  Though I spoke of this in all of my classes for that week, some of you who read these articles weren’t there and may find the answer helpful in some way.

If you don’t know that pose yet, one of many that “I” “made up” and that show up in classes regularly, you’ll have to come to class for that for more complete details, but it’s an on-the-back twist focusing on the arm/shoulder away from which you are turning, while attempting to 1. strongly externally rotate the arm while 2. strongly shrugging the shoulder blade down the back, and eventually adding 3. reaching the elbow out away in the direction it is pointing.  Even if you don’t know the pose, the answer may apply in other poses as well.

The first part of my answer to her question is that physically, it may look very much the same as where a person starts in it.  From an outside perspective, progress may not look really like anything, certainly nothing dramatic or easily noticeable as in other poses.  However inside one’s body, the EXPERIENCE will be VERY different from what it was at the beginning.  (And I believe there are parallels with this process in Life in the World, too.)

The full answer to this question lies in what I wrote previously about The Essence of Physical Yoga Summarized, there in a more general form applicable to all of of the physical practice.  Initially we come to the pose and try to tell the body to do what I suggest and think that “nothing’s happening” or “I don’t have that muscle,” comments that I have heard from MANY over this year.  But with repeated practice, though in the first part of the pose there will be little if any further physical movement in the direction of the action, the muscles will first come into our awareness and then into our conscious control and then will continue to get stronger, eventually to the point where we notice them in other poses and possibly even other times in our daily life.

In the second part of the pose, the initial thought and experience may be the same as with the first, but there actually can and most likely WILL be actual physical movement in the direction of the effort, though the movement of the scapula may only be maybe 1/2-3/4”, a small but VERY significant amount in one’s inner experience.  The subsequent increased conscious connection and strengthening also will occur.

The implications and possibilities of moving from no awareness to more full awareness to actual CHOICE should be obvious when we consider that possible journey in our own Life and in the Life of Society and of the World.  Though certainly there will always be resistance to this movement, whether internally through our “unconscious projects” (borrowing Steve Cope’s idea from the reading last week) or from those parts of ourself or society that have profited from the lack of awareness and choice, the growth can still happen if we continue to show up and work in that direction.  (Hence the Just Do It part at the beginning.)

The effects and result of the third movement of the pose, I’ve been describing as ending the painfully codependent relationship of the shoulder blade with the neck in which the shoulder blade thinks that and acts like it is one with the neck.  Progress in that part actually WILL involve movement of the shoulder blade away from the spine possibly even a couple of inches.  This final part I suggest beginning to put in only once the first two parts are fairly strong and confident.

This pose is a TOTALLY unnatural set of movements largely centered around learning to work things together that never work together.  If we can get that going in our own body and experience, then maybe there’s hope for our political system.  Now wouldn’t that be a great way to see progress in the pose!

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