Sometimes a Yoga session feels more like a monologue - do this, then do that, then do it like this, no, do it like that. But a Yoga practice can be so much more - a two-way conversation between the mind and the body.

Every movement and breath provide sensations, and every sensation is an invitation to react to it. Sometimes reactions are the standard, expected retorts in the spirit of "Hi, how are you?" that acknowledge but do not probe. Sometimes the body speaks such interesting, provocative, unexpected things that the awareness is drawn into a more lengthy and, perhaps, meaningful, interaction, and your Downward Dog suddenly looks far removed from the expected shape. Both of these types of responses are valid and have their place.

There are days when a perfunctory greet and meet feels satisfactory, and then there are days when one feels like staying a while and talking to some body parts, when the shapes you make are unique to the moment. Some body parts are very vocal and always speak up, some need to be coaxed. Some take years to discover and then maybe some years more to open up. Through regular practice it is possible to create a rather detailed body map of those places and an extensive vocabulary. In Yoga this process is called Svadyaya, or Self-knowledge, which ultimately leads to self-sufficiency.

"Freedom is the greatest fruit of self-sufficiency." Epicurus (341-270 B.C.)

One of the traps we make in a conversation with someone is to assume we know what they are going to say. But approaching each interaction as if it was the first can reveal to us that nothing ever stays the same, and even though it may seem like the conversation repeats itself, in reality there are nuances of meaning that can enrich and enlighten us. Our vocabulary can grow with time, so that the slightest adjustment in posture reveals hidden meaning even in the most familiar places. This is how Yoga can sustain our thirst for novelty over the years.

But before we can have this conversation, we need to learn to listen. There are many voices. And here is when a group class can be very valuable to a beginner and the experienced practitioner both. A good teacher is someone who has mastered body language to some degree and is able to act as a translator. Learning to discern between warnings and invitations is the first and, arguably, the hardest skill to learn. The line separating "good" sensations from "not so good" can shift moment to moment, or unexpectedly all of a sudden after staying in one place for years. If we are prone to making assumptions whether because we don't know where that line is, or because we have seen that line one too many times in the same place over the years, then we risk crossing it, unawares.

As a Yoga teacher I like to remind my students of this. It is easy to coast, it is hard to stay focused. This is why I am beginning to appreciate the pauses between poses so much more now. Resting between events. Taking a few breaths at regular intervals to stop and to listen. This had been missing from my practice when I was younger, but it has become the centerpiece now as I've matured. The pendulum swings always, but there is a balance and a stillness in here somewhere, I can feel it.

So, next time in group class, let's compare notes, and then go write our own story at home! In future posts I will talk about other skills we develop through a regular Yoga practice, such as breath/movement coordination and "sandwiching" technique, selective engagement/relaxation, playing with the edge, and many others. Stay tuned.


Anna M.