One of the first (and, paradoxically, riskiest) poses I teach my yoga students is what I call a comfortable seat. It means sitting still, with ease. It comes first because these days we disregard stillness far too easily. With pride, we say that we never slow down. We hail the heft of our schedule as a symbol of our importance. ‘I don’t have a moment to spare ‘til 2016!’ Subtext: I’m moving and shaking the world like a tectonic plate. Reality: I’m probably not sleeping that well; my body aches; I don’t even know what I’m thinking. The pose is risky because it can frighten people away from yoga entirely.
Still, I can’t not teach the comfortable seat. It’s the price of admission to the yoga path that we learn how to slow down. To stop, even, and listen in silence to the sounds and requests of our bodies. This is why we eventually move on to other poses. And also the reason that yoga eventually brings people greater health and wellbeing.
Which is why the integration of yoga in our western world is a sort of a bittersweet story. I hear again and again from prospective students that they haven’t tried yoga because it’s far too demanding, far too rigorous, made for bodies that haven’t stiffened, aged or suffered the trials of daily life. People see pictures of yoga bodies, bendy as reeds, and they opt out. While it’s true that the spectacle of yoga is well suited to acrobats, gymnasts and monkeys, the practice is and always has been intended for all types. It just so happens that we live in a culture that loves to make things just a little harder than they need to be.
The fact is, yoga means yoke. This ancient Sanskrit term is meant to imply the ideal state of connection between the body and mind. It is a symbiosis between the two, such that the body’s health facilitates the mind’s and vice versa. The hard work of yoga doesn’t have to be contorting. It should be mindful and appropriate to the practitioner.
Which is another reason I ask my students to take a comfortable seat before they do anything else. By slowing down yoga, it becomes accessible to all, opening up the benefits of the practice to everyone. From this position, by connecting breath with simple movement, students of all ages and all types will begin to guide their bodies out of stress and into the physiological condition that mediates our innate ability to heal: rest. It is well accepted that stress and negative thoughts trigger the fight-or-flight response in the body’s nervous system. By practicing yoga with careful attention to the body’s limitations and needs, we stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system– the rest-and-digest state– from which the body recovers, repairs and restores. Accessing this state not only optimizes our emotional well-being; studies show it enhances the effects of all the other good things we do for ourselves: that cardio workout, the resistance training, the diet plan. Meanwhile, the physical postures we do in yoga improve strength, flexibility, balance and courage.
With this in mind, I encourage you to slow down, take a comfortable seat, to breathe, and to consider how nice it would feel to treat your body to mindful movement made appropriate for your body.
Remember, you can always schedule yoga and massage with me at Envision Personalized Health, 619-299-9695. I’m also available on Fridays near La Jolla Village. Contact me directly to schedule. All bodies are welcome and encouraged.