We, at O2 Yoga, are known for being pretty particular about certain things like alignment of feet, knees, wrists and shoulders, use of breath, and specific set up and entrance to postures. It may seem overdone at times are at least too much to take in. When people first come to O2, they often start with Basics but not always. Whatever class they start with, they usually say the same thing at the end of class, “Wow. That was different than I expected. We did so many poses that I have never seen before. There is so much to take in!” This is all true. In fact, I love how patience and humility are built right into this practice. There are no shortcuts. In fact, being disciplined, practicing regularly, learning concepts when you are ready is all part of this practice. The goal is not the end but the process.
The Path, not the Destination
When I first started practicing yoga, I was very caught up in “getting” certain poses. There was never an end point. Yes, there was great joy and elation when I got my first headstand but it didn’t stick. It always felt like the goal line kept shifting. Yes, I did a headstand but I can’t do a handstand. At the time, I felt that what I could do defined my practice and me as a practitioner and later a teacher. What I have come to realize over the course of 15 years of practice and teaching is that steadiness, grace, and focus are the goals. The irony is that I can actually do a lot more than I could back then but that does not define my practice. On the other hand, I don’t “do” certain things that I was obsessed with in the beginning such as jumping through to seated. I have made a choice to move with efficiency instead of being hell bent on getting through my hands every time. The result is a much more focused and graceful practice and less achy shoulders and wrists.
It Comes and it Gos
I don’t always come away from practice feeling smoothed out. In fact, sometimes I feel agitated right on through. I will say that the distracted practices are much fewer and farther between. I usually know about ten minutes into a practice whether I am focused or not. Yesterday, for example, I realized about 8 Sun Salutations in that I had no connection to my breath. Once, I focused more on my breath, the practice smoothed out. I kept having to remind myself to pay attention to my breath throughout. Other times, I feel like my breath is there and all I need to do is follow it. I think it took me a few years to really understand that the breath is it, everything else follows. It is not the other way around.
Back to the Particulars
So why all the particular alignment cues? A number of reasons. One, it has been my experience over the years that the foundation needs to be built properly or the practice with be continuously interrupted by injuries. Two, Being particular about alignment means paying attention to details. Three, aligning a pose properly allows for the progression to more difficult and challenging postures later. What prevents us from moving beyond foundation postures is often the same things that keep us from moving forward in our meditation practice, our practice of breath, and our practice of yoga off the mat. Taking the time and making the effort to pay attention to each transition, to the alignment of the body, and the evenness of the breath shows a deep level of respect for the practice as a whole. To me, yoga is not just what I do on my mat but how I am able to transfer these lessons into my everyday life. What also prevents many of us from progressing is a lack of patience. I like most people want to move forward a a faster pace than is always healthy or wise. Being patient is also respectful to the practice and especially to the practitioners who have been doing it for years.
Moving through the World
I hope that my practice has taught me how to move through the world more gracefully, consciously, respectfully, and especially gratefully. When it really comes down to it, we are not judged by what we can do on our mat but how we make people, animals, spaces, feel around us. I cannot imagine my life without yoga nor can I imagine a time when I will cease to learn and be humbled by the process. So, when we say, “Bring your feet to parallel.”, think, “Pay attention, be mindful, listen, and breath.”