Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Please Do Sweat the Small Stuff (notes on asana practice and beyond)

One of my favorite things to talk about is truth and its contradictions.  The deepest truths often have opposites that are also true.  For example "You are perfect the way you are" and "Never stop growing" are both truths.  I believe ones ability to live with contradictions like these is equal to his ability to thrive in life.

In this blog I want to talk about the opposite and equal truth to "don't sweat the small stuff".  Though this phrase is clearly true and extremely helpful in many contexts, its opposite is also true.  It is often the case that making a few small changes in life can make a huge difference.

Let's talk yoga asana.

It is not unusual for students to come to me with pains and issues located in their body.  Especially as a student begins to practice, he becomes even more aware of his body and starts to notice every misalignment, ache, and pain.  Sometimes old injuries will come to the surface asking to be paid attention to.  This is great.  It's a sign that the yoga asana journey has begun.

But "why," the student asks me is this pain coming just on the right or left side.  She wants to know if she is doing something wrong in class.  Usually she is doing nothing wrong.  That's when I ask the student to look at the "small stuff" she is doing in LIFE.  Does she always wear her bag on one shoulder?  Does she always sleep on one side?  Making a "small" change in one of these off the mat habits is going to have a large impact on life on and off the mat.  Just try it!

Small changes in ones practice can also have huge consequences.  You may not be able to change the Ashtanga sequence,  (We like our tradition.) but you can jump through with opposite leg on top than you usually take.  You can thread your fingers with other thumb on top.  Doing all your poses where the hands are laced, such as Prasarita Padotanasana, Halasana, and Sirsasana with the opposite grip alone will fix almost any imbalance in the body. You can shift your focus from making, to listening to the breathing.  You can give uddiyana bandha priority over mula bandha or vice versa.  It's not that one point of focus, hand grip or jump through is  better.  Big shifts happen when we allow ourselves to become unstuck by making tiny changes which disrupt our patterns.

One student may need to move faster.  One more slowly.  A simple speed of practice change, a "small" thing, will open up a whole new world to a yoga practitioner making the practice seem new and strange in the most beautiful way.  Confuse the body and we start to discover the nuances of the mind learning that methods of doing things we believed were a given and only way, are in fact systems we impose based on our genetics and previous experience.

Our habits are so deeply engrained that they can be nearly impossible to see.  That is one of the many reasons a teacher is so important.  This past Sunday I held my regular Train Your Brain workshop where I teach students how to look at some of those habits and assumptions and disrupt them using small physical changes.  Giving yourself a tactile trigger, like every time you touch your door nob, as a signal to become self aware is an effective example.  And the "small act" of momentary self awareness is, well, no small act.

So go ahead, and sweat the small stuff.  Change your bedspread.  Walk to work. Wear that bag on the other shoulder.  Pick one small shift, disrupt that brain, and start your personal revolution.  You won't be sorry.  You'll be transformed!


Julia Knight said...

Last Night I watched Leyla put up her Eraser Board on her wall.. wh wanted to have a place to write.notes to herself...we began drawing out yoga poses...than she wrote "self strength"..."calmness"..."YES", and then we decided instead of determination we liked "dedication" even better...the process of drawing shapes and thinking about our yoga experience...the breath in the we feel when we bring our attention to our breath...being quiet together drawing....felt transformative and I was filled with gratitude that my 11 year old daughter is Learning to keep coming back to her body..and I am learning to keep returning to mine to guide my heart and spirit with each breath....Thank you, Julia Knight

Lara Land said...

Thank you so much for sharing Julia! Was great to have her in the "adult" class the other night. I felt it was her coming out!