The unevenness of being

Possibly due to my healing injuries on my left hamstring and right knee, I’ve been noticing the imbalance between my right and left side a lot. I’m definitely one of these people who never lies in the middle of the mat unless I pay special attention to it. While the injuries are making the differences between both sides quite obvious*, I’ve also started noticing much more subtle details, for exemple in the way I distribute my weight on my feet.

Interestingly, senior teacher Garth McLean came to teach a weekend workshop two weeks ago, and part of the teachings were directly linked to this. This was the 4th time I had the chance to work with Garth (I had already blogged about my experience two years ago here), and as usual I felt very grateful to be able to learn from him (such kindness! such energy! such wit!).

One of the main themes of the workshop was to imagine that we have 3 spines instead of one, so two extra outer spines let’s say, on each side of our usual spine. Most of the practice was then focused on keeping all three spines evenly extended. I found this incredibly useful to bring awareness in parts of the chest that usually get glossed over, so that the chest won’t sink in on one side more than the other. Since I am finally getting to a point where I manage to extend my spine in backbends and work from the upper back muscles rather than crunch the lower back, it made me aware of my tendency to shorten the right side…

But more than during the asana practice, what really openned a new window of understanding for me was  when he taught pranayama. Sitting pranayama is difficult for most people, myself included. There are two main things I struggle with: keeping the chest lifted, and not overdoing the breathing. Keeping the three spine imagery, he told us to exhale, thinking as if the inner side of the outter spines are lifting up. This made a huge difference for me. First, it strongly prevented my chest to sink on the exhale without feeling like I had to fight hard for it. It made keeping the chest lifted very natural. Since it seems conterintuitive to lift up during exhale, this also prevented me from exhaling for too long, which I tend to do – inhaling for long durations is usually harder for me.

So much more to learn, the yogic journey is such an exciting one!

* This was especially obvious during my exam for janu sirsasana: on my “good” side I was sitting on the floor with chin to shin; on the “doubly injured” side, I could not bend forward even while sitting on a height.

Image result for janu sirsasana

PS: I got a bonus tip to help healing my knee. Garth made us do supta padanghustasana I with one belt on the knee that is up, the buckle just under the patella to the inner side. The belt handle goes behind the knee to the outside of the leg, then into the hand of the same side of the leg that is up. Another belt is on the foot of the up leg, with the buckle bringing the outer foot down. ‘t is great.

PPS: I just handed in my PhD thesis! Now waiting for the approval from the reading comittee, meanwhile taking some well-deserved holidays 🙂

 

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Finally! (a new beginning)

First of all, let me get it out for those who are wondering: I passed my introductory exam! Since last week, I am officially part of the Iyengar lineage, and I’m incredibly grateful and happy about it.

It was a little tough physically, since it just happened to be the hottest day of the year, and at least 10C over usual temperatures. And of course, practising the 62 poses of the combined syllabus in a small room heated to ~34C, surrounded by 6 pairs of eyes strutinizing your littlest movement is not exactly how I imagine my ideal Thursday morning. One of the last poses we have to show is chatuspadasana, which is already not one of my favorite poses. I’m still learning how to use my glutes and hamstrings, and if I don’t use a belt my knees start hurting pretty rapidly. Anyways, at that point I was ready to give up and I really had to talk with my monkey mind: “Stay. Stay. Stay. She’s gonna call us out any seconds now. Press the feet down. Stay. Lift your pelvis once more. Just stay.”. The relief when the moderator called supta badakonasana was real…

chatuspadasana

Chatuspadasana – theoretically you’re supposed to hold onto your ankles, which I can’t do because short arms + sensitive knees, so I use a belt. If anyone knows where the credit is due please let me know.

I was a little surprised that the feedback I got by email in the following days was very short. No big surprises content-wise however. For the practice part, the main point was I am relying too much on my flexibility and need to build and work more from strength, and of course that I am overextending my elbows and knees. It might have been worse than usual during the exam due to stress – in those cases I tend to want to feel something (even if I feel the wrong places…). They also mentionned that I look very composed during asana practice and I should get more fire into my practice. I only partially agree with that point; though I very likely have a kapha dosha, I am actually very drawn to vinyasa practise, backbends, and quite pushy in my practise which has cost me a couple of injuries. I have had to stop going to one of my teacher’s classes at some point because I knew he would push me to do more, I would, and as a result I would injure myself.  I am striving to attain effortless effort, but even though I have heard multiple times that I make asanas look easy from the outside, well, it’s usually only from the outside.

I found this comment interesting, because it also somewhat came back in the advice for teaching. That I should put more energy, be louder, and have more enthusiasm when I am teaching. Part of this is just my character. I don’t think I will ever be one of the so-called “old school” Iyengar teachers, shouting at people to straighten their legs. After all, I am but an introvert, and even though I thoroughly enjoy teaching, it is already a thing for me to be the center of attention. However, I am very enthusiastic about yoga and transmitting my knowledge, which is why I became a teacher. I feel so happy when I see a student finally understanding something or connecting with their body in a way they had not before. It usually takes me a little time until I know the student enough to feel comfortable; that’s when I start cracking a joke or two during the class (which usually goes along the lines that you’re not supposed to die in the pose, except maybe savasana :D). For the exam, I obviously taught people I had never met, so I guess my teaching game wasn’t at its best – but then again, I don’t think anybody has their best performance on exam day.

The feedback also mentionned that I should insist more when the students don’t do what I want, and be more hands-on. I completely agree with the first part; this is one of my weaknesses. I don’t like singling out people who are not doing what I am telling them to, and it’s something I have to work on. Not caring what the students want but rather what they need. I was quite surprised by the “more hands-on” comment though, because in the Guidelines for Yoga teachers Guruji basically says to only touch a student if necessary. I think I tend to make too many hands-on adjustments, so I was a bit wary of that during the exam. Maybe I overshot it?

Anyhow, it’s a pretty weird feeling to finally be certified. The reactions of students at the studio have also been wonderfully heart-warming, everyone wanting to congratulate me and hug me – it is really a wonderful community we have, and I’ll be sad to have to leave it soon (off to new adventures…). But above all, I am immensely grateful to my teachers, especially Hiske Van Der Meulen, for sending me and guiding me on this path. My yogic journey is only just starting, and it’s a pretty exciting route that is awaiting me!