I thought I was getting relatively kick-ass in my yoga posture; relatively meaning I’m giving myself ample allowance for my age, gender, and various surgeries. I figured that once I had been through teacher training I’d be able to whip anyone (of similar age, sex, and state of physical disrepair) in a posture-for-posture yoga bar fight. You know what I mean, a bunch of yogis are drinking too much of the hard stuff in a bar, tempers start to flare, and before you know it, it’s all chaos with legs flying as everyone trys to out dandayamana-janusirasana each other until the police come rushing in and drag everyone off to jail.
The fact is that after yoga teacher training, I’ll lose that bar fight every time.
Zefea Samson and several other evolation trainers have been dissecting in minute detail every posture in daily clinics for the last four weeks. It has been illuminating. It is not that I have been doing the postures all wrong; I have had excellent teachers and, in the broad brushstrokes, I am doing them all correctly. But, as always, the devil is in the details. The instruction “heels together” means “really press your heels together, and keep them them together until the bitter end of the posture”. All of a sudden, I’m a beginner all over again in 6 different postures which became twice as hard if I just pay attention to that one detail. “Legs together” means learning that I have weak inner thigh muscles, despite decades of training legs in skating, skiing, running and other sports, muscles that give out after a couple seconds of honest effort.
Posture clinics are called “Mechanics” and, in fact, structural engineering would be a useful background since it is ultimately about force vectors and the properties of the material, the human body. Alignment is everything, pull, push, stretch or kick like a demon with the wrong alignment and the force is misapplied. At best, the posture doesn’t do what it is supposed to, or, at worst, it creates a misalignment and does more harm than good.
Ego is usually the demon doing all that unuseful pulling. I found myself asking the trainers for permission to cheat just 5% in a pose on the grounds that that measley 5% was all that was keeping me from enjoying all the wonderful benefits of full expression. At least I knew I was saying the stupidest thing ever said in a evolation teacher training even before I finished saying it.
I’m not claiming I didn’t get anything out of teacher training that could come in handy in a yoga bar fight. I may have been reset in 10 or so postures but I made some gains in others. Compressing your abdomen in a compression pose is usually a good idea and you are not standing on a tightrope, so create a stable base pointing your toes in the direction of movement: suddenly I can touch forehead to unbended knee in standing separate leg head to knee. If you need to balance, balance, don’t move your support forward: voila, first hands-free toe stand. For every action, an equal and opposite reaction, contracting thighs in a forward bend relaxes the hamstrings: and I can drop a few more inches in standing separate leg stretching pose.
Of course, teachers have been yelling these things at me for years, but I was always too eager to win the ‘do-the-full-expression’ prize to bother with pesky details that would make it possible to do-the-full-expression once my body was capable of it, if that day were ever to arrive.
What I have really learned in posture clinic is that there is no do-the-full-expression prize. You might think that I should have learned that earlier in my 10 years of doing yoga, but at least I’ve finally learned it. A yoga session pays, say, a benefit, on average, of .01% improvement in all the things yoga improves. That benefit is the same no matter where I am in yoga practice; the payoff is not greater the closer I am to so-called full expression. In fact, a constant percentage improvement may translate into much greater changes in one’s life when one is starting with a yoga-deficient body. I do need to work towards full-expression as I practice longer or I would stop improving and feel no benefit. Full-expression is just a perpetually distant destination that keeps me heading down the road in the right direction, that is, with good alignment that makes the posture beneficial.
I got it. I’m slow, but I’ve finally got it. I can’t ever win the yoga bar fight, but not because I’ve reset to zero twice as many postures as the number that I moved forward in. I can’t win the bar fight because I don’t want to win the bar fight anymore, because the bar fight I have been preparing myself for over the last ten years does not exist.