It's that workshop time of year when yoga teachers attempt to reach out to a wider audience.
It's never such a hard sell. There's something about the warmer weather that tempts folk to leave their homes in search of something new; whether it's the sunshine bringing about an expansiveness and an urge to connect, or a need to shake the last of the chill from winter-bound muscles. It's also a chance for the yoga teacher to flex their professional muscles and gently steer folk into the quieter backwaters of the discipline that rarely make it into a regular class typically heavy on asana, the physical postures.
The more I practise, the more I realise I do not have a body that is particularly good at asana. It seems silly to come to this conclusion now, after over 20 years of practice. Really, you would have thought the penny would've dropped sooner. Still, I got there in the end. Let's hear a "Hell, yes!" for slow learners.
Bodies that are "good" at asana ~ regardless of whether they have natural flexibility ~ have to have very specific skeletal proportions. As a teacher, I've noticed those with a more compact build ~ shorter legs and spine ~ tend to have a far easier time of it than those with a long spine and legs.
My particular skeletal frustrations mostly relate to wrists and ankles and their lack of dorsiflexion. This impacts on any asana that requires a shin/forearm to move forward over the top of the foot/hand. Say, for example, Malasana (Squat), Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), Prasaritta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle) and certain arm balances. But it's not the end of the world, a well-placed block solves most of the issues.
So our skeleton has a massive impact on our ability to perform asana. And here's the thing ~ there is NOTHING you can do about it. Apart from lock and loading your props that is. So really there is no need to stress, push or curse. It won't make a damn difference. May as well chill and smell the flowers.
I devised the yoga portion of a recent workshop, Going with the Flow, with this in mind. What would happen, I wondered, if I simplified the physical practice as much as possible ~ still providing modifications for those who needed them, of course ~ but simplifying it way beyond most class content? Moving the focus away from the Third Limb of Yoga and placing it firmly on the (arguably) more accessible Fourth and Fifth?
Now the day was billed as very gentle, as space to regroup and refresh ~ a rare and precious thing in this mad world of ours. Everyone was there to reconnect with inner stillness, with calm. We had a programme of yoga, meditation and qigong lined up, everything geared to slooooow us down, to nurture peace and ease. The venue was in an old 18th-century coach house set in a beautiful woodland landscape. Free range chickens popped by to see how we were getting on, and the sun shone through blossom, stirring fat bumblebees into lazy, meandering flight.
Yet despite this idyllic setting, halfway through the morning yoga session I became aware of a restlessness. I had designed a session drawing heavily on warm-up moves with few actual asanas, and when participants realised that actually this was it, this was the yoga practice, there was a coming-to-terms moment, a struggle against the need to be dynamic, moving and powerful, and the need to accept and well, go with the flow. For some, choosing the latter was a real challenge.
From childhood, we are programmed to find purpose and meaning and, more importantly, validation, in doing, in being constantly and visibly busy. Even though we carry within us a somatic craving for less, our intellectual side (our ego) overrides this instinct, viewing it as having little merit. So when stillness is imposed on us, when the choice is taken away, we have thoughts of frustration and dissatisfaction.
Maybe you've tried to water a wilting plant whose soil has got too dry? Even though the plant desperately needs the water, the soil around it repels it so it sits on the surface. In the same way, our mind is our own worst enemy turning away that which would help us thrive. But with enough time and persistence, we can absorb what we need and find deep, meaningful nourishment.
I found my response to this very natural reaction of restlessness telling. Anxiety. The anxiety of not giving participants what they wanted, of being boring, not being liked, of making participants feel they weren't getting value for money, of putting folk off yoga for the rest of their natural lives! Going with the flow indeed, and getting dunked and washed downstream by a torrent of self-torture!
I needed to take a leaf out of my own book and placed all my awareness on the breath, grounding myself with the sensations in and around my body. Rather than reject and suppress any of these thoughts and feelings, I simply let them be in the same way I let my dodgy wrists and ankles be.
Soon I could return to the moment that was happening in front of me, what was real and tangible, back to the blessed quiet of life's natural flow.