What Students Hear

Last week I took a lovely all-levels yoga class where the emphasis was on fully engaging in the practice rather than striving to achieve a particular outward notion of what the poses should look like.

Near the beginning of the class, but after the emphasis on not striving had already been discussed, the teacher said that the ideal form in uttanasana — standing forward fold — for classical hatha yoga is with the feet together. But, he said, however, he said, but not, the teacher explained, if your back is curved like a “c” in the pose, and your lumbar vertebrae are higher than your sacrum. In that case, you want to take your feet wider apart or you will strain or injure your low back.

As I was fully into the pose, I could see the rows of students behind me. At least two fellow students in my immediate line of sight, promptly put their feet together, even though they had tight hamstrings and bulging lumbar spines and were clearly pushing themselves hard to get their fingertips to the floor. As soon as the word “ideal” was uttered, they could not hear the caution or could or would not apply it to themselves.

The evident intent of the teacher in his exposition of the pose was to give an example where the “ideal” form is most certainly not ideal and will not further the reasons we practice asana. But for so many in this society, striving is such an ingrained way of being, that yoga class can become just another way to achieve.

It was useful for me to witness how carefully one must teach to high achievers this principle of the “ideal” being what suits and not what will win accolades. How do we teach (and learn) the practice of goalless goals, of enjoying working for fitness (of the mind, body, and emotions) without pushing and striving? I’m pretty sure that invoking the principle of actionless action from the Bhagavad Gita would not have made a difference here. It seems a shame to think that the only way to protect all the students’ backs is never to mention the classical form of the pose, and to have to tell all the students (especially in a big class) to have their feet apart (or some similar alignment rule)for protection of the few who do not (or are not yet ready) to hear the whole lesson.

Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.


1 Comment

  1. Gayle

    I do wonder how much more this happens here, in this city of overacheivers, Type-As and perfectionists who cannot hear things like “ideal” without immediately thinking that they absolutely must immediately achieve whatever that is. It took me (and the World’s Tightest Hamstrings) some time to learn there is not enough room on the mat for both me and my overachieving tendencies (you helped me learn that and I thank you for being gentle in the process)…

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