Softening

Very little grows on jagged rock. Be ground. Be crumbled, so wildflowers will come up where you are. ~Rumi

I have, at various times in my life, been described as rigid, confrontational, hardened, and jaded and all with good reason. I have been all of those things. I’m learning to be different, though, and I think I’m making progress.

Our society sends a confusing message to both men and women about what it means to be tough and how toughness is both rated and valued. There’s no doubt about the overarching message which is that toughness equals strength and softness equals weakness. I find this very interesting because being soft is much more of a challenge.

Diamond and graphite are both made solely from carbon. Graphite is soft and diamond is the hardest substance known to man. The difference lies in the way the carbon atoms bond to each other in each substance. In graphite, there are strong connections between the atoms, but there is wiggle room between the layers. In diamonds, the atoms are evenly spaced creating a rigidity that does not allow the atoms to move, thus making them very hard.

Rigidity can be very comfortable. When we’re rigid, we don’t need to think too much. We have a prescribed set of rules to follow and we follow them. When we allow for movement, for flow, we have to deal with whatever that entails, usually change, uncertainty and the feelings that arise from both.

In asana practice, one can really only strengthen and lengthen the body after they’ve learned to soften. As any seasoned yogi will tell you, one does not get into the most challenging postures through force. Surrender is key.

I used to think that to soften I had to be fundamentally different in some way. I now know that it’s not about changing who I am or about needing some quality that I don’t already possess. As with carbon, it is merely a matter of how I connect the atoms of my being. I can seek out symmetry and perfection in my connections, or I can seek strength and flexibility.

I’m choosing to be soft (or at least to try) and to see what grows.

What’s it all about, Yogi?

My recent time at the Evolution Asia Yoga Conference was, as I have mentioned, wonderful. In addition to spending several straight hours with Dharma Mittra, I also took a two-hour backbending class from Jason Crandell. One of the reasons I chose this particular class was because I’m not a huge fan of backbends. I know some people love them, and I do love them, but only when they’re over. To me, nothing feels quite as great as coming out of a backbend.

Interestingly, Jason began the class by asking who loved and who did not love backbends. I was in the majority, as it turned out. The practice was great, and I was able to enjoy some backbends thanks to Jason’s excellent instruction and suggestions. Indeed, Jason is known for his deep knowledge of anatomy. It is very obvious when you take a class from Jason – he knows how the body works.

The thing that has stuck with me the most from his class, though, was not about backbends at all, but rather about Yoga in general. He said Yoga has almost nothing to do with range of motion or flexibility. We like to make it about those things because they are easily quantifiable. Flexibility is valuable but it does not determine quality. Yoga is really about equanimity – of body, mind, and spirit.

As Jason was saying this I was trying very hard not to come out of the pose I was in and nod my head vigorously in agreement. He put into these few sentences the message that I so desperately try to get across to my students and to people who ask me about Yoga.

Yoga is about balance and unity, not flexibility. It is this fact that makes Yoga something that EVERY PERSON can do no matter their physical condition. It was this realization about Yoga that led me to create,with a partner,  Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center.

I was so pleased and grateful to get to spend those few hours with Jason. He has been named “one of the next generation of teachers shaping yoga’s future”. I hope that’s true.

 

Namaste.