A few years ago, I was walking along the seawall at Kitsilano Beach. There’s a segment where the seawall separates the path from a drop (Six feet? Eight feet?) to the beach below. A friend I’ll call MJ dared me to walk atop the seawall.
It’s encouragingly over a foot wide. But would I risk toppling from a height greater than my own?
“Hold my hand,” I said. “Then I’ll try it.”
“That would be only for practice.”
“You’ve got to be joking. No thanks!”
At that moment, a man and his dog approached us from the opposite direction. The dog–a short-legged breed, perhaps a Welsh Corgi or a Bassett Hound–was calmly, blithely, negotiating that seawall.
“See? He’s not afraid. What’s your yoga good for?”
He was toying with me, but he did have a point. Any gains in strength, flexibility, balance, and coordination should be useful in real life. As Aadil Palkhivala humorously noted in a December 2011 workshop, “If someone asks, ‘Who are you?’ you’re not going to leap into Trikonasana!” Likewise in the mental arena: what’s the point of doing yoga for hours if you’re impatient and short-tempered off the mat?
Focusing on the physical side of asana, have yoga poses changed your body mechanics? Can you translate yoga alignment (and the appropriate “actions”) to everyday life?
Real life is about movement. In a yoga class, asana should be taught step by step–at the outset and most of the time. In everyday life, however, we must be able to move without pondering each step.
Actually, some poses involve a bit of velocity. Take Adho Mukha Vrksasana, handstand or arm balance. Some yoga students cannot kick up despite sufficient strength and flexibility (and the ability to hold a handstand if assisted up). In contrast, at the gym, some guys kick up into arched-back, hunched-shoulder handstands without hesitation. They “shouldn’t” do handstands (at least not without guidance), but they can and do!
So why can’t those yoga students kick up? Here are a few ideas:
- Fear Some might worry that their arms will collapse or that they’ll somehow fall, and this fear elicits a lukewarm or scattered kick. They are psyching themselves out.
- Insufficient “burst” While all asana involves isotonic muscular contraction, Iyengar yoga often emphasizes isometric contraction with its long holds (think 10-minute headstands and repeated 30-second Chaturanga Dandasana). Maybe some need to work on faster movement–to become accustomed to jumping, lunging, rolling, and kicking up.
- Putting it all together A person might possess the necessary physical attributes to do a pose, but simply be stymied putting it all together. Doing everything at once. I’m reminded of W Timothy Gallwey’s points in The Inner Game of Tennis, in which he recommends quieting the chatty “left brain” (voicing instructions and criticism) and letting the “right brain” intuitively performs the actions.
In my last post, I discussed flow yoga as complementary to Iyengar yoga (Iyengar flow?). Flow yoga, done well, is not contradictory to Iyengar yoga, done well. It just involves integrating appropriate actions in motion. It trains the mind constantly, swiftly, seamlessly to shift from one pose to another.
At one end of the spectrum, there are isometric long holds; at the other, there are rapid-fire, precisely choreographed athletic moves–done so fast that the mind must be silenced! In between, maybe doing faster-paced sequences can be good training for those too comfy moving slowly and deliberately–while those guys who kick up to banana-shaped handstands would benefit from Iyengar yoga.
What about walking on a seawall, wide enough but also high enough to risk injury (or at least a scream)? I don’t know. My instinct for self-preservation is strong, whether that’s yogic or not.