Our culture teaches us to set and achieve goals. We have targets for children of all ages; many young adults aspire to owning their own property; most employers have a clear idea of the output required from each employee, and so on. This can be a good thing, because we are able to progress in our lives and improve things for ourselves and our families.
Yoga asanas (postures) seem like goals. A newcomer to class would look at the asana shapes students make, thinking the aim of the class is to make these Yoga body shapes. I’ll write another blog, another time, discussing whether the postures are the point of practice or not. For now, let’s just recognise that minds trained to achieve goals will see the postures – and the cues given by the teachers about the postures – as goals to achieve, things to get done.
Tightness in our bodies is never localised to one part like hamstrings or hips. Freeing one body area can reveal deeper and older restrictions or limitations elsewhere. In fact, it can take years to build a body that correctly moves in and out of Yoga postures and positions. But people can often create a shape that looks more or less right, and so there’s a conflict. The goal-oriented mind needs to achieve the result and make the body shape, but the body can’t make the shape correctly: hips are out of line, joints are in dangerous hyperextension etc.
We need to change the goal. Rather than creating a specific arrangement of arms and legs (which may or may not work), it’s more effective to be able to feel exactly where the body is. The “goal” is to maintain this feeling all the time, applying Yoga and Hot Yoga movements to strengthen areas of weakness and free areas of restriction. The best outcome for a Yoga or Hot Yoga class is to empower people to drop the goals for their future selves – and instead, work with what’s happening in their bodies today. Hence Yogafurie in Bristol strives to create an environment where people can recognise and accept themselves and each other, as they really and already are. It also means that the studio is very friendly, and not at all elitist, which is quite refreshing for our new starters.
What are the implications of these ideas for teacher trainees? At Yogafurie’s Yoga and Hot Yoga Teacher Training Academy in Bristol, our trainee teachers understand that their words can have a big impact on students. If a teacher says, “Forward fold, hands to the floor” for instance, then people will try to do that and for some, it could result in back injury. If the teacher says, “Bend your knees, bring your hands to the floor or bricks”, then students will do that and might never stretch their hamstrings. How do you guide people towards specific movement outcomes, without making people fixate on those outcomes? The language used needs to invite people to move, to feel what that does and to adjust as necessary to remain safe – whilst still working sometimes quite hard.
In fact, any and all alignment cues are for a person, at a point in time. They have a general applicability, but for any one individual, they can/ might/ should change over time. It’s important to always question our practice methods and motivations, because over time we change, and what we need changes. This is another key attribute that Yogafurie Academy seeks to develop in new teachers – to always question, analyse, examine and be sure they have sound reasons for teaching what they teach. In a nutshell, it’s important to avoid dogma. The particular methods and instructions that were relevant yesterday might not be relevant today. Always doing things one way, for no other reason than “we’ve always done it that way”, is an invitation to dogma and stagnation. Yogafurie Academy in Bristol is not that kind of school.
Breath practices work with the brain stem directly. It holds ancient algorithms that underlie survival – it kicks in when breathing is threatened. This is a very powerful way of dismantling unconscious drivers, because it starts with the deepest driver of all – the need to breathe. It’s the first step in challenging our own internal tendency to stick to the same patterns of behaviour, regardless of how well they work. In other words, we root out dogmatic tendencies in ourselves first. If everyone did this, then society as a whole would be freer to adapt to the challenges of a (now rapidly) changing world.
There’s a correlation between the ancient concept of karma and our more modern recognition that habits (both good and bad) dominate our behaviour. Some of our habits and patterns come from the lives we’ve lived – we’ve learned to embrace some situations and reject others (and sometimes before we’re even 100% sure what’s going on and regret the decision later). But some are deeper, gifted to us through our evolution. On the Yogafurie Yoga and Hot Yoga Teacher Training course, we teach certain key kriyas to our trainees. These are old and highly effective health and wellness regimes that address deeply-held patterns directly. We update our own algorithms through the right kind of practice.
Rushing to the end point of an asana – that is, simply trying to make the body shape regardless of form and technique – overrides the information and messages that our systems send about what’s happening. Yet “getting the posture” is exactly what the goal-centred mind will want to do. Establishing a “goal” body arrangements means that people will try to get to that goal, and in so doing, circumvent their current movement limitations. This is a real shame, because the asana practice is there to highlight any such limitations, and to provide a space in which to work on those. Every class can be a missed opportunity to examine, adapt and grow beyond current capacity. Slowing down – rushing less to get more real change – is a key skill that our trainees are asked and supported to acquire.
This requires that our teacher trainees know the asanas in a lot of detail – not as a list of “dos and don’ts”, but as a body experience. Knowing the postures experientially in this way enables a rapid assessment of another person’s technique and form. Our teachers can offer meaningful verbal and physical adjustments because we are a school of dedicated practitioners.
Learn more and sign up to transform your life and your Yoga practice with Yogafurie Academy through this link to our Yoga Teacher Training page.