Have you ever finally felt like you’re beginning to understand, after ages of struggling, some arcane instruction your yoga teacher has given you, only for them to tell you something completely contradictory?
My yoga teacher, Donald Moyer, recently retired and I was looking back over a decade’s worth of notes from his classes. I was struck by how consistent his teachings were. The exact instructions of what to do might have changed from one year to the next, but the underlying spirit did not, so much so that, even though in 2006 he might have been asking us to do one thing and in 2014 he was asking us to do something else, he never contradicted himself, as the instruction he was giving was not something categorical, not an absolute instruction of something that had to be done, and done in this one particular way in all situations at all times, but an invitation to explore and apply and see what results it gave you.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about movement and yoga in the last few months in the build-up to launching this shiny new website and in preparation for a workshop I’m teaching. I used to blog very regularly at my old site (yogaartandscience.com) for many years, but since then my understanding of the ways the mind and body work together have changed radically, thanks to the kind and patient presence of many teachers like Donald Moyer and Mary Lou Weprin at the Yoga Room, Amy Matthews at the Babies Project and Brooke Lieb and the faculty at the American Center for the Alexander Technique, where I trained to become an Alexander Technique teacher and am now honored to be teaching anatomy to the trainees.
As I was going through my old blog posts at Yoga:ArtandScience.com, I came across my old instructions for Tadasana (Mountain Pose). They are very old-school, classical yoga, from a time when I was still trying to reconcile the instructions of my early teachers with the new thinking I was learning from Donald and Mary Lou. Reading them over the other day filled me with the same kind of dread as any stabby-slashy horror movie. Harsh, militaristic and compressing, they were the essence of what I’ve come to think of as “Yank-and-Crank” yoga, filled with violent, strong directions designed to beat the body into submission. After fifteen years of practice like this, I found myself with crippling back problems that left me unable to do more than a few standing poses without throwing my back out. It took years of intense study of the Alexander Technique, embodied anatomy and developmental movement to fix the damage I had done to myself in my early years of yoga and find a better, healthier, more integrated way of moving that will see me through my fifties and beyond.
Having come out the other side stronger, calmer and more flexible than I ever was in my twenties and thirties, I’m looking forward to going through the information on the old site as I transfer it over here and giving it a new gloss. The poor old thing is creaky beyond all imagining and not long for this world, so don’t be surprised when it goes away at the end of the year. And not to worry, all the good stuff will be ported over here, pristine and intact.
Later this week we’ll get stuck into those old Tadasana instructions and have a look at how yanking and cranking your body into shape is not the best strategy for a happy life, so sign up for the Craft of Living newsletter to not miss anything. It costs nothing, it’s easy to do and you’ll get a special treat from me in your inbox as a thank you.