July 31, 2012

Why I Still Suck at Yoga.

Photo: Heather Morton

After practicing for 15 years, I am not any better at yoga than the day I first rolled out my mat.

I didn’t know anything then, and apparently, I’m no closer to enlightenment now.

In fact, everything I thought to be true has been turned upside down this year. That 2012 is called “The Year of Transformation,” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I think I’ll call it “The Year of WTF.”

Next up to be shown as a myth are the UPA’s, aka the Universal Principals of Alignment ™.  Until now, I believed along with 300,000 people who practiced Anusara Yoga that the UPAs were the right way, and possibly the only way to do yoga. I believed what Anusara was selling, that it was a precise and orderly methodology and had guaranteed results.

It turns out there are no guarantees! This is funny because I actually teach that all the time. I probably should have listened better.

Earlier this year when Anusara imploded, I pleaded that we not throw out the method with the school. In other words, let’s keep teaching the UPA’s and just get rid of the sex and drugs and freaky shit around the solstice, because—surprise—howling at the moon really has nothing to do with yoga. N-O-T-H-I-N-G. (Same with hula hoops and frilly yoga pants.)

My thought was that if you wanted to get better at yoga, then the UPA’s, were proven. As my teacher used to say, “You can bank on the UPA’s.” It turns out, the UPA’s are like a lot of the banks today—not so perfect!

The past six months have shown me that the UPA’s may not work all the time. Or, they may work, but they don’t suffice. Or, maybe they work, but not for all of the people. And maybe, just maybe, they have been holding some of us back on the mat. In fact, the most compelling thing about the UPA’s was the way their charismatic creator, John Friend, sold them. You wanted to believe that this was the panacea to a deeper, pain-free practice. Where do I sign up?

My education around this began when I took a workshop where former Anusara teachers taught poses that required rounded shoulders, sickled feet, and flattened hands—formerly taboo. Under their guidance I went deeper into my practice by breaking all the rules. And believe me, I felt schooled.

Then I took a class with Rodney Yee where he taught the breath, masterfully, as well as a softer core. And I went deeper than I had gone before in a twist. A soft core—who knew? And remember the breath from Yoga 101?

This is how some Anusara teachers taught the breath: “Inhale,” then they’d give 10 instructions on the UPAs and a story about their mother before we could exhale. That is not breathing. That is thinking. I used to have a six-count breath in my practice. Today I breathe like a rabbit.

Even the Anusara principle of “Inner Spiral,” which I used to believe could cure everything from a sore back to the common cold, has been shown to be fallible. In fact, too much is performed against a hard surface, like the floor, can tear the tender ligaments that surround the sacroiliac joint.

“Outer Spiral” also has its issues. In September’s Yoga Journal, Doug Keller gives an excellent description of how “scooping” the tailbone (often the first step in outer rotating the leg or in initiating Pelvic Loop) can over compensate the proper alignment of the sacroiliac joint and jeopardize not only stability but the piriformis as well.

These days it’s hard for a yogi to know what to do or who to trust. Widen or scoop? Flat hands or spider fingers? Melted heart or broadened back? OMG! I am never going to get better at yoga.

The promise that any kind of yoga can guarantee a better practice is probably false. As a result, I have decided to trade in the dogma for downward facing dog. The only thing I know for sure that we can count on is practice, and practice only. Also, I have become quite fond of thinking for myself and leaving the group-think scene.

The bad news is I will probably suck just as much in the next 15 years as I do now.  On the other hand, I am feeling a tad more enlightened by realizing it.


By Michelle Marchildon


Editor: Brianna Bemel


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