No longer lost in translation
When my son was a toddler, I went on a one week training without him. When I got back, he was so insulted by my absence that it took a couple of days before he deigned to give me his attention. Nevertheless, on my first night back he slept on my shins for the entire night, thus making sure that I couldn’t leave again.
When we return to our bodies after even a short while on retreat in our heads or somewhere else entirely, much the same thing happens. While we really want to communicate with the body, and while it’s probably secretly quite pleased to have us back, it’s going to take a little while for that communication to happen seamlessly.
Which is why a yoga cue like ”Just listen to what your body wants” might not be very helpful, because listening itself is really what we need to relearn.
During my first years as a yoga practitioner, I did a lot of listening, although I mainly turned my senses towards what my teacher at any given moment was trying to say and translating that into physical form. I heard things like “bandhas”, “spirals” and even mythological tales of what was supposedly going on in my body. What I heard less of (or actually didn’t hear at all) was the pretty cool things that my body already knew how to do. As if internal and external rotation of the hip was somehow less yogic than inner and outer spirals. As if those elusive bandhas would always be more desirable than understanding the muscles of my pelvic floor and my transverse abdominis.
Having my body described as mythology rather than an actual physical shape that I could easily connect with left me with a feeling that I wasn’t really getting what was going on, probably because I just wasn’t advanced enough. To be able to understand I would have to keep sitting at the feet of advanced-enough teachers, until that one happy day when - by the grace of the Gods of Yoga - I would simply fall into the non-verbal intelligence of my breath and… well, I honestly don’t know, because it never happened.
What happened was a growing pain in my hip after about fifteen years of pretty traditional ashtanga practice and some ill-advised flexibility inducing yin yoga. Yes, I could put my legs behind my head, but I had very little stability in my hip joint. So I closed my books on mythology and bandhas and started the long and sometimes arduous journey of studying anatomy. My studies led to a sense of empowerment: I began to understand what I could expect of my body and how I could make it happen. That breath and bandhas would never be enough to stabilize my shoulder or hip joint, but that I had a bunch of really cool muscles that would. The pain in my hip (and my back and my shoulder) disappeared and my mat became a place of strength and contentment rather than a place of mythological struggle and cues lost in translation. Later came the study of nerves, fascia and meridians and how they’re all interconnected, and the truth is that even if standing with your hands deep in a cadaver that you have the great fortune of dissecting is probably the most grounded-in-reality thing you can do, it’s also so deeply and utterly fascinating that the need for any fancy storylines fall away, turning the body into the guru whose feet you want to sit at.
And while I love to sprinkle my teaching with a dose of poetry, nowadays it’s the earthy kind of poetry that is grounded in what the bodies of my students will actually let them do, not what I, as their teacher, think they should do.
And no, I no longer try to put my legs behind my head. And no, I don’t miss it even the tiniest little bit. Because I’ve finally discovered that no matter what I get my body to do – even if it’s just a bit of cat-cow on a slow Thursday – not only is it super-advanced to simply be able to pay full attention, even to the simplest of movements, it’s also the greatest gift that I could ever give myself.
An embodied approach to yoga is on offer in all of our classes at Prana, where most of our teachers are currently part of our advanced training.
Thor and Ann-Charlotte share their studies of the interconnection of anatomy, fascia, nerves, meridians and much more in workshops and trainings in Denmark and abroad. We’ll be hosting a retreat on Iceland in August (16th to 19th) and a retreat/training on myofascial release and flow in Goa in February 2020 (23rd to March 1). Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to make sure that you get to secure a spot when we open up bookings.