Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Yoga learning adventures
I've talked about "Learning" very early on in my blog, I am fascinated by how people (including myself) process information. Read "Learning" In that blog entry, I mostly focused on my experiences in the music, acting, and performing world, but I find this theme is all around us, all of the time. Yesterday, I was assisting a level I yoga class with my beloved yoga mentor, Jill Cahn. As an assistant in a yoga class, I do things Jill asks me to do. She'll make an adjustment on a student and then ask me to make similar adjustments on students, I'll give extra blankets or props to those who need them, I follow Jill around and watch her make adjustments and clarify points for students. Sometimes I just walk around the room observing. Since it is a morning class, there are a good amount of seniors and a handful of moms as well as others, there were about 20 students yesterday. I'm always fascinated that Jill will give an instruction, and everyone interprets it differently, even when she demonstrates! For instance, the last piece of triangle pose, raising the arm and hand overhead - arms are all over the place, hands are all over the place, and students are completely unaware of where their arms or hands are. When I'm a student in her class, I don't notice things like that because I'm focusing on myself, so observing her classes is invaluable. I constantly see that the brain and the body process at different times.
What does THAT mean? Here's an example - we're given the instruction, "make sure your feet are parallel." My brain says, "oh, ok," maybe I adjust my feet, maybe they are parallel already, but my brain is ready for the next instruction immediately. However, my feet, on closer inspection, aren't really parallel, maybe my heels need to go wider to be fully parallel, or my toes are gripping, but my brain thinks, "NEXT!" My brain assumes that my body is fine, let's move on. The body, however, is processing the information in its own time, my brain and body are not working at the same pace. This is one of the powers of yoga practice - we are training our minds and bodies to work together with grace and ease, it is not just exercise. This training puts us in our parasympathetic nervous system, the place where we are in comfort and peace, mind and body, and not pulled in to the fight or flight sympathetic nervous system where many people reside. It is the journey of a lifetime.
In Jill's level I this session, there is a woman who looks to be in her early 60s but told us she is in her 70s, she is determined to do yoga, the fire is there. However, after so many years of being out of touch with her own body, she is truly all over the place, and she could injure herself because she is so out of touch. I have been doing the poses with her, yesterday we were working triangle pose with the back foot grounding in the wall, I do the pose with her, in front of her, so she can see close up what she needs to do. It is coming little by little, her desire to be in the class and understand is inspiring. There was another student working on the same wall, I adjusted her but she didn't get it, and suddenly I couldn't put into words what I wanted her to do! I could show her clearly, then she put into words what I was doing, I said, "yes," and then she did what I was asking her to do. I felt dyslexic. Here is an example of processing the other way around, one of the reasons teaching yoga for a beginning teacher is difficult - verbalizing what you are doing with clarity. Just like my own yoga practice, verbalizing is another practice. Jill told me that when she started teaching, she wrote out her class plan and spoke all the directions aloud twice, so she would feel comfortable. You would never know after 20 years of teaching that Jill had had such difficulty in the beginning.