Daily lesson from March 26, 2013 (Teach the teacher): Look vs. Feel
The best yoga instructors I’ve had the pleasure of learning from had a way of directing my attention to how I felt in a posture vs. how the posture looked. And today I found myself in that role with a frustrated student who was very concerned about his downward facing dog: “I can’t see what it looks like, even in a mirror, and I don’t think I’m doing it right.”
When I asked him, “how does it feel?” he confessed he hadn’t really considered that. He was so intent on getting it to look right (even referencing a DVD with a model he was supposed to look like) that he lost the powerful, nonverbal communication between his physical body and mind during his downward facing dog. To me, this is the magic of yoga – moving through postures and paying close attention to the messages my body is sending:
- Am I tight somewhere? Is this due to a life pattern that needs tweaking? Too much time in front of a laptop hunched over, perhaps? How can I correct this?
- Is my right ankle on fire in Warrior II? Oh yeah, that’s the one I’ve sprained three times over the past few decades of jarring activities. What adjustments can I make in this posture to bring some relief?
- Am I scared practicing handstand in the middle of the classroom? Is it really my fear of falling? Or is it a fear of being judged by others who might be watching? Aha – the fear of what it looks like.
So much is revealed when I let go of any expectations of what a posture should look like and concentrate on what I’m feeling. The body is constantly sending us messages that if we just quieted our mind, our egos, our “what do we look like?” obsession, we’d gain a ton more valuable knowledge and make wiser choices.
It’s hard though. REALLY hard. We naturally want to look good for myriad reasons: to set a positive first impression, to gain respect from colleagues and peers, to attract others. And in yoga, who doesn’t want to rock some of those Yoga Journal cover-worthy poses? But in practice, and in life, sometimes we need to let go of our concern for what we look like to allow our physical bodies the ability to communicate with us. As a teacher, I sometimes allow concerns of what my demonstrations look like. Heaven forbid I wobble in a standing balancing posture I’m teaching to students. Instead, what if I simply recognized that I’m human too, and wobble sometimes? And maybe my wobbling is sending me a message that my body is overtaxed and instead of 30 more chatturangas, it could use a day of rest? Maybe it needs a plate of vegetables instead of handfuls of animal cookies? How does it feel?
Fortunately through yoga we can continue to practice the lesson my student taught me today: feel what messages our bodies are sending and let the images in our heads go.