Red-faced, huffing and puffing with sweat literally dripping off of you.
And yet the teacher is leading you through yet another namaskar (sun salutation).Where is the clock? How much longer do we have of this? Breath?
Am I even breathing?
You’re “the only one” in the entire class who is struggling to keep up, arms trembling in Warrior 2, dropping like a huge rock through chaturanga. You then come into a forward fold, shoulders hunched around your ears and forcing your hamstrings to comply.
Pop. Oh yes. You just got injured.
Almost anyone who has practiced yoga has been at this point or some variation of it. Even if you are well versed in the principle of ahimsa, (non-violence towards others or one’s self) there was a moment or even an entire class where you did not extend the concept to yourself in your own practice.
In yoga there is that fine sweet line called the edge that every student should flirt with throughout practice. A great yoga teacher knows how to push a student just up to this edge with integrity, stability and no force. They will weave a class together that adjusts itself to where students are at that very moment, providing a forum that prevents (most) injuries and allows students to reach their fullest potential. I have heard teachers talk about how they walked in with a full class prepared and written out that ended up completely crumbled and thrown in the trash when they realized what their students needed was different.
An even greater yoga teacher knows how to teach their students to discover this subtle edge for themselves, allowing students to establish a connection with their own bodies that is so in sync it knows exactly where to hold a pose and go no further. Teachers often emphasize to direct attention to one’s breath and you will know exactly where that point is (i.e. if you are huffing and puffing you have gone too far). However, there is the counter-part of listening to one’s breath that is crucial, and that is drop-kicking that ego to the ground and keeping it there. This is part of the cultivation of one of the niyamas, svadhyaya (self-inquiry or self observance)
It is crucial to a life of integrated practice that allows the body to trust the mind.
This past year I experienced my first true injury. It was probably from class after class of continually listening to my ego instead of my body, compounded by being trapped in cubicle land with my hand glued to a mouse. The pain started out sporadically in my right wrist, not unbearable. I didn’t listen and it grew. I was angry at first, how could my body rebel against me? What if I can’t (gasp) do yoga 6 days a week? Modify? My ego screamed out against this.
Since my injury, my body has become the greatest teacher of all, humbling, kind but encouraging. Practice has become a joy because I literally was forced to come to a point where I could not listen to my ego anymore. Every practice takes my body right up to the point of experiencing the pose exactly where I am today. Of course yoga is called a practice for a reason. There are times when the ego creeps back in and listening to my body tells me exactly when it is happening. It is not a constant battle but more of a delicate dance to let my body take over
where in the past my mind was the ruler.
By really listening to my body and not where my mind thinks it should be, I have experienced openings like never before. Your body must trust that you will respect its edge before it lets go. There is an intelligence within the body that our modern day minds have been trained to ignore, dominate or control. Once we relinquish this control and let that subtle intelligence take over in our practice, we find the openings that we seek. It has and always will be there if only our egos would just shut up so we can hear it.
The next time you come to your mat, experiment with truly letting your ego go. If you find yourself looking at other students in class or in the mirror, close your eyes, turn inward. Listen to your body to find the alignment and stage of the pose that is a satisfying challenge and ultimately exhilarating. Yoga allows us the opportunity to find space in the mind, ceasing of the mental chatter and an awakening into an embodied state, literally finding your way back to the body. It will be the most amazing yoga teacher you will ever meet, and you will have it for the rest of your life.
Jasmine has been practicing yoga for about 8 years, although only “seriously” practicing for the past two years. She attended teacher training for 200 hour Prana Flow Certification in 2010 and recognizes that the teacher training was just the beginning of a lifelong of learning and practicing. She currently lives in Tampa, FL however dreams of living in Boulder, Colorado one day.