Today I reflected on a conversation with a student from yesterday.
This lovely new student of mine said “I’ve been practicing yoga for five or so years, five days a week, and my hamstrings and body are still so tight.”
I replied, “have you thought that maybe it’s about the way you’re doing the yoga that’s not assisting a further opening?”
Her desire to feel a shift was so genuine, sweet and palpable that when I taught her techniques she’d never learned, she opened to feel her body in a very new way. She had some revelations: her hamstrings became more elastic, her spine freed, and her spirit lifted.
This was a beautiful awakening for me too. I pondered about the teachers and classes she has been attending for so long, with a paradoxical scary thought that those teachers are not seeing what, for all intents and purposes, are simple re-alignment actions that would help her tight spots to open.
Then I realized that students are just as responsible for their own healing and growth as teachers are for guiding them toward it, as felt by this student’s desire to learn and shift. I have known this through experiencing my own growth flow like a steady stream, and often rush like a river only from intense attention I bring to making it so.
And not just simply in the form of yoga asana and the poses we do on the mat.
I’m talking about taking the teachings into life and heart off the mat.
While it is the teachers job to cue healthy alignment, breath flow, and energetic connection, it’s also the job of the student to practice it, regularly. On the mat yes, but also off the mat.
What is the student’s mind set before class? Are they prepared for taking the time to enter the sacred zone of practices where deep shifts can occur?
Most teachers I know get present in some way before class. In my teacher trainings, I encourage teachers to be sure and leave a 15 or 30 minute bracket before class whenever possible to drop into themselves, scan their class plan, and be prepared to lead others into that sacred zone. Seems basic enough, and totally possible to do en route on the subway.
But what about students? When leaving work for class, are you giving yourselves a few minutes to drop in, put the work and phone down, and let your energetic body catch up to your physical body in space and time to be present? I know everyone is busy, and time sometimes is crunched transitioning work to yoga.
When students aren’t encouraged to take the practice more seriously and be with it off the mat, then a lazy mind-set might think its only the teacher’s job to be present, so the student just gets to take a ride and be guided.
If that’s the thinking, then here’s a thought: those hamstrings might stay stiff a long time.
And, after class—How quickly does the student grab their phone, engage in dialog and live in the senses mindlessly, dulling the very brightness that has been brought up to the surface? Or, leave the sacred space with an immediate sense of forgetfulness that they were even in there, as if yoga class was just another thing checked off the to-do list?
I say: offer yourself time to enjoy the yoga high.
Walk slow, talk soft, wait to get on the phone. My meditation teacher Paul taught us in the first year of practice, many years ago, that it’s not necessarily the quality of each meditation practice that we should focus on, but to feel how life is affected between practices.
This is one reason he strongly teaches to practice sitting twice daily, once in the morning and again in the evening. This way, daily life is framed by an inner atmosphere having been given the chance to rise to the surface.
Same with asana classes. How is life between yoga classes? Are any of the teachings gleaned in the heart, the way they are in the body? Are interactions with family, partners, children, work, and creative endeavors influenced well by regular practice?
Even in classes where there is no dharma talk, no clear ‘message’ that yoga asana practice has a spiritual, energetic, and emotional context or effect, practitioners know that something happens. Something shifts during practice to create an opening, a deepening connection to the Self, and a balance to what feels out of balance.
Without it being labeled or discussed, it happens, and those students who recognize it enjoy the brightness in their lives from it, continue to practice, and flourish in ways noticeable to those around them. In a way, it’s the student’s responsibility to engage in mindful behavior and thought between classes if they want to feel an effect from yoga. This is yoga seeping into life, and what I think is it’s higher message.
I’m also reminded of a basic Tantric yoga tenet I learned ages ago from Douglas Brooks: yoga is an invitation to step into our own empowerment.
Invest fully in the process of your own transformation and growth as much as the teacher is invested in you, and in their own practices. Tantra theory also embraces that the energies of the world are aligning for your growth to occur. The only thing missing is you.
You have to bring yourself to it, body, heart and mind, if anything is to shift. Especially in those tight hamstrings.
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Ed: Sara Crolick/Ed: Dana Gornall
Photo Credit: Pixoto