There’s a piece of recent news depicting an Instagram yogi who suffered a stroke performing a Hollowback Handstand - an “advanced” pose requires the practitioner to extend spine and create a deep backbend, all the while holding the legs in mid-air. The hyperextension of the neck resulted in a rupture of her carotid artery which sent a blood clot to her brain.
It was played up dramatically across the media, and triggered a lot of fear mongering as to whether Yoga (as a physical practice) is indeed as beneficial as it purports to be.
Yoga is an ancient practice on a mind-body connection. However, what seemed to hold true in contemporary postural yoga is the emphasis on the end game.
1. In a group class format, students are instructed based on pre-conceived notions of shapes or aesthetics, i.e what a pose should look like in mimicry of the form. In social media, we scroll through contortions performed by hypermobile yogis hailed as an advanced practice.
2. There is so much speak in terms of alignment principles and how to get into poses successfully. These supposed universal principles sees the body as standard human architecture of parts that fit together.
3. In an attainment-focused, you-snooze-you-loose society, we are consumed by the notion of Mind over Matter, of what we’ve got to show to the world. It’s about pushing harder in everything we do, from our career to the exercise regimes we choose. It’s about 5-steps programs and quick-fixes and how to lose weight in a month. We want everything packaged and delivered.
In the trainings I facilitate, I often go on ad nauseam on this line - It’s not about WHAT we do, it’s about HOW we do it. It is not about placing your feet here and turning your head there, and voila, you’re in a yoga pose programmed for bliss. It’s not about getting deeper into a backbend so your heart can be wide open. And it’s definitely not about the teacher coming in to push you into what is considered as the correct expression of an asana to add compensatory patterns upon compensatory patterns.
It’s about what happens as we’re moving from point A to point B, it’s the moment-to-moment attention our mind affords the body during the transition. It’s about noticing what we are holding on to, or what we have disassociated with. It’s observing what is happening to the breath, what runs through the mind? And once we arrive in the pose, it's the continuity of how each moment is unfolding, what is the body informing us? What do we sacrifice in order to persist? How many other possible ways can we explore?
Rene Descartes’ famous theology of I think, therefore I am, led us into believing that our body and mind are separate experiences that are relational only in the ways that the latter reigns supreme. This body and mind duality leads to a conundrum of us thinking that we need to outdo our body in order to attain what our mind tells us to. And our body does abide, it finds creative ways to work around limitations such as fatigue, stress, anxiety, until it can no longer….
Moshe Feldenkrais said, “You can’t do what you want until you know what you’re doing. Once you know what you’re doing, then you can do what you want.” It is often easier to do what someone tells us to do than to actually notice what we’re doing.
To self-inquire is arduous and dangerous, as it often defies dogmas. It requires us to let go of old beliefs, step outside the comforting realm of familiarity. But what it will unleash is the courage to be true to our authenticity, a reimagination of perspectives, unearthing a wisdom through learning how to listen to a deeper and more subtle consciousness .
It’s not about What you do, but How you do it. Someone once told me this is a heavily-loaded statement. And indeed it is. It puts us in a volatile position of not knowing, of beginner’s mind, of not trusting our fabricated storylines that are rooted in fear. It requires us to actually have to slow down enough to glimpse into the spaces in between. But it brings us to a whole new level of a grounded, embodied intelligence that gives us back the power to make choices, the right to BE who we really are.
Embodiment is a somatic experience, an exploration into the deconstructing the phenomenons that have been recorded in our nervous system, conditioned by expectations and ego.
It is the ability to move into an empathic path of coming into relationships with self and others, a relearning of choices, a bridging of the body and the mind.
If you're interested in exploring this work, join me on the next Embodiment & Bodywork Immersion this July.
Registered Yoga Therapist, Somatic Movement Educator, Bodyworker, Yoga Teacher Trainer