Monday, April 15, 2013

Flexible Body, Flexible Mind

After an incredibly inspiring meeting the Creative Director, Tim Smith, of Totem, the Cirque du Soleil show running through mid May at Citi Field (pawn your belongings and go, go!!), I've started stretching for thirty minutes to an hour every day.  In audition tapes, Cirque wants to see a full split, all three ways, as well as a high degree in flexibility of the back and shoulders.  I have exactly one of those things (Hooray, unusually bendy thoracic spine!).  The good news is, while I can't  realistically swing more than two aerial classes a week, I possess everything I need for a thorough stretching routine already: muscles, and a floor.

So there you have it; post-dinner netflix time is stretching time, and after the no-sugar Lent of 2013, if that means skipping dessert, I'm ok with that.  If I'm really craving some chocolate icecream, I take it with me in my forward fold.

Between going on eight years of consistent yoga practice, one year of a five-minute nightly stretching routine, and one week of the new 30-60 minute stretching routine, my body is changing: If it's not first thing in the morning and I'm a little warm, I can not only bend down and touch me toes, but press my palms into the floor.  Depending on your body type, you're either giving me a great big, "So what?" or are in awe.  I'm far more inclined to sympathize with the latter group because it was only in my second year of yoga that I touched my toes with straight legs for the first time I could remember.  Ever.  I was twenty.  Every additional  inch I eek out of my hamstrings is a miracle, as far as I'm concerned.  While my shoulders are still so unflexible as to be outside the realm of possibility in most yoga teacher's minds, my hamstrings and hips are moving, I'm slowly realizing, past average and toward, well, bendy.  Holy shit.

This is a big deal, obviously, and the area in which I'm having the hardest time adjusting is in my practice as a yoga teacher.  I put my students into hamstring-heavy poses, and then I say, "Now, if you're not flexible, like me, this pose may look more like this:" and move into what my brain still assumes is a very generous variation...except it's not such a generous variation anymore.  I can't exactly pretend my hands can't connect to my feet when they can. Oops.

Being able to relate to the less flexible crowd was always something that I loved about my yoga classes, because it gave me sort of an instant in: I was the yoga teacher whose body was like theirs. I actually understood how downright embarrassing it could be to move into your body's version of a seated wide-legged forward fold in front of other people before you've had months to remind yourself that, really, it doesn't matter how you look.  That's just meaningless ego chatter.

And I STILL know how that feels, because I still strike that pose in my aerial classes, where most of the other students are border line contortionists with beautiful straddles far closer to 180 degrees than 90, who can often lay their chests right down on the floor.  Suddenly all that hard-won progress looks pretty paltry.

So, yes, I CAN still relate, and I CAN still teach from that experience, but my forward fold no longer resembles my newb students, and when I try to teach from that experience, they look at my body, and I can see the incredulity on their faces.  I am hurting my creditability.

In this situation, I have a major responsibility as a teacher to stay up to date with where my body is and what it can do, to keep a real-life perspective on where my muscles fall on the continuum from super-restricted to contortionist so that I can speak honestly about where my body is (and was), and offer variations and modifications that will allow all the bodies in my room to achieve a meaningful, integrated, healthy stretch.  If my mind stays static as my body grows more flexible, I'm inevitably going to become out of touch with my own body, and from that perspective, communicating meaningfully with other people about their bodies is all but impossible.  A changing body calls for  an observant, unattached, even flexible, mind. (Here's the takeaway, guys: all of us have changing bodies.  Maybe slow, maybe fast, but all changing.)

I hope to use my body as an example of how a committed yoga practice can affect real change, but I also have to beware of false advertising: A one-minute pigeon pose a couple times a week didn't enable me to put my palms on the floor; dedicated time each day to the cause of lengthening my muscles did.

In case you haven't noticed, this new stretching practice is giving me a lot to chew on in terms of yoga philosophy.  Next week we'll dive in again, looking at the question of what qualifies as yoga through the lens of this same practice.

Live Omily,
~em

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