Archive for January, 2014

The Biggest Mistake made in Yoga and Possibly in Life

Comments Off on The Biggest Mistake made in Yoga and Possibly in Life Written on January 28th, 2014 by
Categories: General, Yoga mistakes
What we think yoga should like

What we think yoga should like

In yoga sessions, people ask me all the time, “How do I look?!” My general response these days is “Great, but how do you feel?”  I’ve come to realize that in yoga, even with all the emphasis on self-awareness and nurturing spirit, blah blah, we still get caught up in our own unexamined desires to please, to get the carrot, to achieve, to finish. We take time out of our busy days to ostensibly take care of ourselves, to listen to ourselves. We then actually spend it very subtly (or not so subtly) punishing ourselves and imposing someone else’s ideals on ourselves.  We ask ourselves: Why can’t I touch my toes yet? Why is my balance so bad on this awkward left leg? My abdominals are so weak! I’ll never get this pose. etc.  Underlying all these questions and statements is the real thought, “What is wrong with me?”  We try to fix our problems by over stretching and straining. Does this mean all discomfort is bad? Of course not. But the attitude by which we struggle makes all the difference.

Most of the time, we want someone else to tell us we are doing it “right”. We want approval, assurance from the outside. We want our poses to look a certain way.  Even if we are not obviously comparing ourselves directly to another person, we still heed the internal judge about where we are in relationship to where we are supposed to be. This constant judging and measuring impedes learning.  We impose instead of approach with curiosity. We try one thing instead of many. Yes, we want to sweat, to really engage every muscle, to shake, to feel our own tightness but all in the pursuit of feeling great. You know when you ‘ve done it, because you come out of a pose and your body tingles. And you feel joyful and freer.

Of course, for a while most of us don’t know what we feel or even what is even possible to feel. There is nothing wrong with seeking guidance from another more experienced person on the outside, a teacher. Going down this path of physical self-discovery alone can be confusing. However, at some point we have to start learning what freedom actually feels like in our bodies and to begin to trust and listen to what they are telling us.  At some point you have to start tuning out a bit and start tuning in.

I know, because I have personal experience with being goal obsessed in yoga.  I’ve always wanted a deep backbend. Why? If I look closely, my assumptions are that it would make me appear truly adept and graceful, would prove I’m a good yoga teacher (that I really know “how to let go”) and increase my economic value as an aerialist. And yet I know from my own experience that the deepest backbenders don’t necessarily make good teachers and bendy aerialists are more often than not boring to watch. And yet I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get my ass and head closer together behind me (we all have weird hobbies). Part of me wants to just continue to bang away at bending my back in a linear fashion, because it thinks I don’t really “get” something, and one day I will get it if I just keep pushing in the same way. I’ve made getting a good back bend mean something about me as a person.

The only trouble is that for twenty years that hasn’t worked out so well. It hasn’t helped that my personal attitude has often been supported by the larger yoga community unconsciously. Physical flexibility seems to be inextricably tied to personal emotional evolution. In some senses, it is true as physical and emotional epiphanies often go hand in hand.  However, if you are looking just at  increasing range of motion, this idea makes little sense. The younger you are, generally the more flexible you are, but you are not emotionally evolved at all. And the super flexible are not necessarily great sages. In addition, when you really get honest with yourself and keep integrity and freedom in your body, your poses actually look actually less impressive from the outside, even if they are freer on the inside.

I have pushed and fought and tried for a long time.  Instead of focusing on how I felt doing a backbend, both my teachers and myself focused on getting the backbend to look good. But I didn’t leave class feeling good, I left sometimes feeling accomplished if in pain, but often just like a failure. I focused so hard on “letting go” that I collapsed into my back then would compensate by gripping my abdominals. No wonder I felt so bound up. My whole core went into protection mode against my will that was trying to force a change my body had no interest in.

What yoga should feel like.

What yoga should feel like.

After 20 years, I have started to really focus on my breath, my muscle engagement, and my energy flow. And of course what happened?! I don’t dread backbends, I actually love them, and they make me happy because I feel more and more free every time I do one. I know the fairy tale ending here would be to tell you I got a deeper backbend. Nope, not in real life, and I actually don’t care (most of the time).  I still find myself here and there checking to see how far my foot is from my head and then of course, the moment that thought passes through my head, my pose goes cold and static and I feel dry and crunchy again. I have to go back to reminding myself to stop with the measurements.

Now, with my clients too, I measure progress in how much they can sense what their own bodies are actually doing. Progress to me has zero relationship to how long one can hold a headstand or how easily you can touch your toes.  I watch breath, muscle engagement, and energy flow. I make different suggestions on how to make something feel freer or more stable and check in with what seems to work best. I try to get super honest feedback if what we are doing is actually relieving pain or tension or not. What is most important to me now is that both my students and I keep one eye always on the bigger picture. The “how” is so much more important than the “what”.

 

iphone vs sky- What a difference your chin can make

Comments Off on iphone vs sky- What a difference your chin can make Written on January 15th, 2014 by
Categories: General

Our language often hints at how we really see the world in relationship to our body. It’s borderline cheesy. We tell people if they are “down” to keep their “chin up”. Or if things are going better than they have been, “they are looking up”.   Even the word “depression” conjures up a sinkhole which we descend into. And for the most obvious metaphor, heaven is up and hell is down. Okay, so what?
We use this language because as humans we universally feel certain emotions when our body is in certain positions, we associate certain postures both in observing other people and ourselves with specific states of being. We know what sadness and depression looks and feels like in our bodies on an intuitive level. And yet when we try to find happiness, we do exactly that… “try to find it” as if it were out there somewhere instead of starting in the most obvious place. That place is within ourselves and how our own bodies interact with the world.
My job, as weird as it seems sometimes, is really one of body mechanic. I help people tune up their necks and backs which have become clunky and inefficient (sometimes even noisy). I try to grease the wheels. I teach ergonomic ways of sitting and walking and physically performing whatever a person does better and pain-free, whether it be golf or writing or standing on one’s hands. And while having no physical pain is a great starting place on the way to feeling good, there is so much more to our postural habits than just mechanics. Our bodies are information feedback mechanisms. We feel good and we open and lift our chests, but also when we open and lift our chests, we feel good.
I was on vacation for two weeks recently in a place with little or no wifi (don’t hate me). So for two weeks, I did not stare at a screen in the direction of my own navel. I didn’t sit and look down a foot away at strings of disembodied words. I spent most of my mornings and evenings watching the sun rise and watching it set again. Then I watched the stars. Or I watched birds teasing the ocean. If we passed through a city, we went to a museum and looked at art or walked through plazas and admired architecture. My head tilted up a lot more than normal and my sensory action was one of absorbing, letting details come to me rather than hunting them down (ah, that direction again).  What I realized was that this simple action of looking up and out rather than down and in, affected my whole being in real, subtle, and profound ways.

Here are some effects I noticed:
-Looking up instead of down made my upper back feel better. I sometimes get a knot under my right shoulder blade, and that cleared up.
-I needed my glasses less. While I still won’t drive without them, the world out there was not as fuzzy. My eyes felt less darty.
-My thoughts were less rapid. I feel almost like my brain waves slowed. Gaps of time were not awkward holes to be filled with whatever I could get my hands on.
-My brain was less self-involved. My thoughts that are all about me became a little exhausting to listen to, so I naturally switched to thinking a little bigger and broader (some of the time at least).
-My senses felt more receptive. I could see more, smell more, notice more.
-I was more in touch with the things that truly make me happy.
-I felt less rushed and anxious.
-I could focus more. Didn’t feel like I should constantly be doing something else.

I am lucky because my life in NYC happens to be more physical than the average person. I train myself every day in addition to running around the city and teaching others about their bodies. However, I still have a constant relationship to my iPhone. In between every client, I always check email and messages, then Facebook, then Words with friends, or I play a numbers game called Drop 7 or a stupid game that involves virtual fish (that’s the most embarrassing one, really?! You feed and breed fish that don’t exist in your few spare moments?! It’s vaguely like Farmville which makes it even more uncool.) When I get home, I take care of things on the computer I can’t do on my phone. Basically, my lifestyle makes little difference as I reflexively stare at a screen as much as anyone.
I fully realize that life is not a vacation. In NYC, I couldn’t really see the sunset if I wanted to. I am not about to walk to the east river every or any morning to see the sun rise especially if it is five degrees out. What is available at any moment? My phone. The problem is that smartphones, with their constant availability and never-ending sources of edutainment, make looking down hard to avoid. Your phone or iPad create the illusion that we are connected to the world, and we get a little anxious when we are away from them too long as we might be missing something. The reality is that you’re actually missing something by the constant iPhone usage. You quite literally aren’t seeing the larger picture around you.
I believe that looking in the directions of our own navels makes us become a little deflated. It’s not just the position of our necks which is bad on a physical level, but the short-sighted seeing. We are also feeding our nervous systems with the idea that our lives are small. We put our bodies into a position with shoulders forward, head down, eyes looking rapidly. If you saw an animal doing this, you would think it is scared or depressed. Enough times in a day and eventually our bodies convince us we are indeed anxious and depressed.
Too simple? Maybe. We are complex beings and again we have a chicken and egg problem. But you will never see a truly content person, one who has cultivated real happiness regardless of outer circumstances crouching all day long. We may not be able to convince our brains we are happy through positive thought alone, but need to integrate how we actually physically look at the world in the everyday.
So now if you’ll excuse me, I have been looking down for two hours. Time to look up.

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