If you have been following along with our monthly focus (our INfrastructure) at the studio (and we know you have! :)), then you know this month we started investigating a new spiritual text together, the Bhagavad Gita.
This month we are discussing chapter 1. (Want to join our Gita convo? Click here.) Chapter 1 introduces us to the concept of dharma: one’s unique path to freedom in this lifetime. The key is to find it and then be brave enough to walk it.
This week on the mat we’re exploring that exact same idea. All month we have been breaking apart the ways we can transition on our mat during the vinyasa and how to tailor those actions specifically to where we are in our practice.
- How to get to the back of your mat and stepping with integrity
- What is your perfect plank-chaturanga-up dog moment
- How do you step forward with core strength and alignment
Make the transitions your practice
This week as we close the month, we’re putting all of that together and playing with what it is like to make the choice that is most in line with your spirit in ALL of the transitions throughout class. You may be asking: What does that mean? And why is it important?
Let’s start with the first question: What does that mean?
It means that every time you change poses, perhaps you think more about how you are getting there and less about what happens when you arrive. So often as teachers we see students rush from one moment to the next, only to arrive in a sloppy shape that resembles a bad version of the shape next to them and not the unique expression of spirit that we hope to see.
Since this is a week for putting it all together (what we call here “energy week”), I want to share two lessons from two amazing teachers who have greatly informed my own practice of and teaching of transitions.
Lesson 1 from Alison West: Get into a pose through the pose
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant the first time she said it to me, but now it is one of my favorite concepts in class when I practice and when I teach. Simply put, it is this: What if instead of fixing a pose once you were in it (think getting into down dog then bending the knees, shifting the hips, arranging the shoulders etc) you took enough time in the transition that you arrived in the pose fully aligned and with no need to fidget. Practicing and teaching with this intention turns the focus from the end goal and makes the moments in between a divine space to begin to see how one thing can become another.
Try it out for yourself
Version 1: From plank pose, come into down dog. Once there peddle the feet, fidget around and come to stillness when you feel ready. Breathe for 6 full deep breaths. Come down to sit in vajrasana (hero’s pose), close your eye and reflect on what came up.
Version 2: Move back into plank pose in order to transition to down dog, but this round, take the time to transition such that once you are in down dog, you are in the shape without needing to fidget or change anything (even if it doesn’t feel like your “best” down dog ever). Close your eyes and breathe for 6 full deep breaths. Again come down into vajrasana, close your eyes and reflect on what came up.
How was the second experience different from the first? If you are leading a class through the exercise, it might be useful to chat with your students briefly after!
Lesson 2 from Bo Forbes: SLLLLOOOOOOOOWWW Down
Though Bo has not been my teacher in any formal sense, a chance workshop I took with her a couple of years ago changed my ability to see how to help students improve their transitions and REALLY start to see them for myself. She had us come into tadasana then we proceeded to do a sun salute… but it had to have taken us almost an hour to get through one full round!
The key: she cued us to breathe 4-5 breaths for each action between the pose!
Prayer lift: 4 breaths. Swan dive: 4 breaths. Uttanasana into ardha uttanasana: 4 breaths. Starting to get the idea? It was AMAZING. It was also frustrating and enlightening and freeing and torture.
Slowing things down to that speed opens the space for you to REALLY see what you are doing, even the things you don’t want to see (boy maybe I am slamming my foot down when I step it forward, I guess I need to work on my core strength…etc) I have used this idea endless times in my classes and my private lessons and even in my yoga therapy sessions. Nothing improves proprioception quite like this activity.
Look for valves, look for strengths, look for when you check out and when you check in and anything else you see.
When you are finished with both sides, sit and reflect and perhaps repeat moving on breath seeing if you can take any of what you learned into the sped up version.
As for the second question: Why is it important?
Many chapters from now, we will arrive at one of the most famous and important lessons in the Gita:
“It is better to do your own dharma poorly than someone else’s perfectly.“
– Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18, Verse 47
We always say that we practice on the mat that which we need to learn in life. This is no different. By learning to be present for and honor what our bodies need through the transitions of our practice, perhaps we can gain more insight into how to honor and be present to our unique paths off of the mat! Try being conscious of your path and see if there’s anything you can bring to your journey from this month of transition focus!
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