Yoga update: the practice of perception and the avoidance of strain

The yoga class I have been attending since January is becoming really interesting for me. I have been a very sport-averse person until recently, and I have been using my body with the bare minimum of awareness possible. Through this yoga lessons I have finally started to notice that: 1- my body is actually able to do more than sit and walk; 2- practicing a physical activity like yoga requires more than simple strength, flexibility and endurance, and this means: concentration, balance, awareness of posture and alignment, memory (for longer sequences, and the details of each posture), coordination, perception of effort so that it doesn’t harm any part of the body.

BKS Iyengar Sirsasana – from Svenja Karsten’s artwork on svejar.com

At first it was a new activity for me and I was trying to follow the teacher’s instructions, but was often distracted by tension in some part of the body, or had to focus on keeping balance and could not think of anything else. Now I start to notice how I can guide my attention to each part of the body and check if it’s in the right position, if there is the right amount of tension in the muscles and ligaments of that part, then go on to the next one. Sometimes it happens that I feel the overall tension of the body as a whole, that there is a good amount of strength in every part of it, nowhere too much, and I take it as the sign that I’m doing the posture correctly. And it’s so rewarding!

This kind of experience is quite far from my initial learning process with music (and a bunch of other things in life), where usually the opposite worked fine: especially with the drums, I have previously been able to make (temporary) progress by producing a lot of tension on the arm(s) or wrist(s) or finger(s) and therefore produce the sounds at the desired speed and intensity. However, it’s a dead end, because tension is both damaging to the body on the long term, and it is a sign that some technical challenge is being forced through instead of properly processed – and that means that progress actually stops there. Jared Falk mentioned something along these lines in the beginning of a longer video on Drumeo, and I’m glad that there is a convergence among the various disciplines I am practising, so I can reuse the mindset everywhere 🙂

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Progress with yoga

I have started a new yoga class and I’m starting to adjust to the amount of effort and stretching required. The previous class was more relaxing and exploring, while this one is definitely more demanding. The first few lessons felt really hard, and I was unsure if the muscle discomfort I felt in the following days was OK, or a sign that I asked too much from my body. After a month I can say that it’s OK, and I’m getting better at knowing how much to exert myself in order to get the benefit from the stretch, and where to stop.

BKS Iyengar Parivrtta Trikonasana, 2016, Tinte auf Papier, 29,7 x 21cm — Svenja Karstens

I have started quite conservatively, by stretching only a little, and stopping as soon as I felt pain. I knew that the exercises require to go past my comfort zone, and that Iyengar Yoga, the yoga style of my teacher, was above my current level of fitness. But only after a few tries I trusted the teacher and finally myself in doing a bit more. The result is that I feel less and less tired and aching after each session, and I become more aware of what my body can do. I’m lucky that the sessions are attended by a handful of people, so that the teacher can give each one of us a lot of attention.

I’m glad I met another person who doesn’t simply whip me forward, but gives me information about what they observe about my current state/skills, and give me useful and feasible next steps. I was about to add “until I don’t need them anymore” – but it felt rather arrogant. I feel I will benefit from experienced people’s feedback all my life long! I’ll maybe need them less, but appreciate them all the same.

Body awareness through movement

It sounds super silly, but today I lived an enlightening moment during my first yoga lesson: my body has a third dimension! I am prancing with sudden joy:

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Prancing Thoroughbred – see related post

I wrote before about my slight sight quirk and I realised how it influences how I see my own body. There is no doubt that my body is three-dimensional, but I rarely perceive it. My eyes see it as flat, as everything else around me. At the beginning of the lesson, I felt my body was composed by flat, paper-thin parts joined together, not even symetrical: I could imagine one shoulder with more detail, bigger than the other one, same with hips, legs, hands and so on. I felt like a quick sketch with some more refined lines here and there. I could not imagine my own side view. Weird – but functional.

Along the lesson, the movements and postures of yoga made me realise how body parts can or can’t move, how far my back can stretch and twist, which tendons start to hurt first, and whether one side of the body has more flexibility than the other. It felt like a careful study of myself. If this is the result after a single lesson, I’m really thrilled!

This experience made me realise how most other people are more fluent than me with movements, and how easy it is for them to use their bodies in an implicitly respectful way. I have been used to see my body as clumsy, but I still managed to move well enough not to need any particular support, so I quickly and silently gave up “studying” it. I was bad at dancing and at sport, but it didn’t matter, and I was not the only one. Now I realise what I missed, but at the same time I am happy to have understood what was going on, and to have found a great discipline and teacher to improve my body perception.

Did you have similar experiences with a new sport or hobby? You’re welcome to share it in the comment section!