Sometimes I scan across my classroom of students while we are doing something like sliding on blankets or working with resistance bands and catch the occasional surprised look or even frustration etched in someone's brow. I imagine somewhere in the back of their head, a story plays: "What IS this? This isn't yoga. This is not what I signed up for." And I know all too well how easily that story prevents them from being able to have a real authentic experience in their body or mind.
I can remember being in my early 20s, a young woman who desperately wanted to be a powerful, kinetic, force of a b-girl (breakdancer). I recollect watching some of the up and coming breakers in the dance circles out at clubs or events in Philadelphia. They did things like put their legs behind their heads or spin on one hand with legs in padmasana or lotus position, years before I ever attempted to do the same puzzle of limbs on my yoga mat. I remember thinking, "What IS this? This is not breakin'." and therefore cut myself off from allowing that experience to penetrate me in any way other than to create aversion. That imprint still runs deeply as I reminisce; the aversion was so STRONG.
I can recall even a few years ago, how much judgement I secretly placed on clients who lifted weights or "worked out" in tandem with the practice I taught them. Some story in my head told me that yoga was enough, if you did it the right way. Anything else was mostly just a distraction. I wouldn't allow myself to entertain the notion that there might be more to physical practice in today's Western culture than a series of postures that was (let's be honest here) built onto the bodies of young Indian men in the early to mid 20th century, mostly by other Indian men.
I read an article recently entitled "What is Classical Asana?", shared by one of my favorite movers on the planet, Carrie Owerko. I loved how lightheartedly and simply Mr. Mohan posed the question, "why not?". But it is one thing to read and to nod our head, and yet another to put this notion of curiosity and non-attachment to practice.
The human ability to categorize and to create boundaries around objects, concepts and experiences has aided in our survival over millions of years. And yet it also has a major drawback, in that it steadily prevents us from expanding our vision beyond those categories that feel safest. I am a "yogi". I do "yoga" and only "yoga". I am a b-girl. I only pop, lock and toprock. I am a lover of 90s hip hop and will not allow you to play that modern crap on my stereo. And on and on and on. When survival and safety are not really the issue behind our categories, but only the perceived safety of our egos and those things we cling to so dearly, categories only serve to imprison us.
So. As my physicality and mental health has clearly requested a different approach since the birth of my child, my notion of physical practice has expanded. My body needs different kinds of inputs and loads than what a standard, static (or flowing) asana practice affords me. I see the same in my students and clients. I've written about this. It is a growing trend across the yoga profession as a whole. Asana is not enough. Not for most people. Maybe not for any. And what is classical asana anyway?
The process of stepping outside of our safe boundaries, of expanding our vision beyond our self-made walls, is one that requires real work. It asks that we step into the difficult role of beginner, something most of us would rather avoid. I get that it is easier to stick to the postures that you first fell in love with five or ten years ago when you began a practice. I get that not questioning the state of things leaves us somehow more open for a blissful state, no matter how ignorant and fleeting our bliss may be. When we have worked so hard to get our headstand or our backbend, why must we rethink it again?
Because, as Mohan said, why not? Our whole-ness, our humanity is at once built upon our capacity for survival AND our ability to imagine. We categorize things into bad and good when we have to run for our lives, but when we have the luxury of basic safety, why not opt for evolution and expansion?
I have benefitted extraordinarily these last two years from exploring a wide variety of movement, somatics, strength and mobility training far beyond the yoga mat and far into territory I never thought I would enter, back when I thought yoga was IT. My clients and students feel those benefits as well, when they allow themselves to drop into the experience of the beginner, when they allow themselves to release their notions of what one should do on (or off) a yoga mat. It is quite amazing to bear witness to these changes.
If we are to expand and evolve our vision of ourselves and of our society, let us start first with our vision of our own cells; our own physical vehicle, right down to the tiniest building blocks. When we allow our cells to experience movement of all kinds, loads and inputs from all directions, our cells respond by upping their capacity. They evolve. Cell by cell, our body transforms. When we allow ourselves to release our stories about who we are and what we do as categories, our mind evolves. It transforms.
I am sure there are many things I still categorize and hold onto, most prominently now in the form of protecting my daughter and keeping her healthy. But I am painfully aware that as she grows I have plenty of opportunities on the horizon to catch myself scowling, saying "What IS this? This is not how I (you) do things!" - AHA. There we are again. Life is beautiful in this endless way it asks us to keep looking, to keep imagining, expanding vision, continue evolving.
And when we do find ourselves stuck, scowling in the corner, complaining about some "newfangled" whatever, it's ok to let that be an appropriate reaction for a while too.
But only for a while. :-)