This past week I was a student again at a week-long yoga retreat. It was lovely and we all learned a lot, but some of what I learned, is what I need not to do.
I was reminded of the old days when I used to go to many different yoga workshops. What I so often heard was “PUSH PUSH” as the mantra with the muscles and the skeleton being the language. And this is simply no longer what practice is about for me. I have learned, finally, after years of ‘PUSH PUSHing’ through, to back off.
There is something about being in Bhutan that is driving this message home more clearly than ever before. I don’t know if it is altitude or Guru Rinpoche in the air, or perhaps simply age catching up with me, but I notice that a little goes a long way now. I don’t need so much movement and activity to drop into the deep details. Less is definitely becoming more, and more. Practice seems to happen on its own, if I simply get out of my own way.
Some days, the idea of pushing and jumping around through the same sequences admonishing myself, or students, to pull stretch reach push repeat over and over seems quite ridiculous. Some days, it feels more important to slow down, to breathe and to listen. This feels more like yoga to me: a practice that reflects the impermanent nature of things.
Now I don’t claim to have attained an enlightened view of what yoga is. But following the Neti Neti (not this, not that) paradigm, I am slowly narrowing it down.
I learned this week that we need to be sensitive to the current circumstances in our lives. When just back from a long and demanding hike, we need restorative postures and deep breathing, inversions after being on the feet all day. We don’t need more difficult legwork! If we are hyperflexible, we don’t need to overdo hip openers. We need to learn stability, strength and connection – the retracting movement of tying it all together. Otherwise we simply exaggerate the stretching and spreading ourselves all over the mat and all over our lives. This has taken me much too long to understand. In the meantime, I have worked my hardest to accommodate every teacher who I have come across, trying to please them with how flexible I can be, ignoring my body’s pleas and cries to please back off and get a grip. Literally.
So it was an interesting week. I have learned that constantly pushing when there is a weak foundation is simply not helpful. Awareness and rest can be as powerful as work – we need balance. And so rather than forging eagerly ahead to the next step, I am now sitting still, deepening the breath and strengthening the foundations, waiting for the next step to arise out of those depths.