As a yoga teacher, I’ve encountered my share of inelastic body parts. ‘Oh, no, my body doesn’t go that way,’ people say. Hamstrings are tight; hips are stuck. The tin man would feel willowy. There’s inelastic minds, too. ‘Yoga is for double-jointed circus people,’ a skeptical student once advised. He added, ‘Not single-jointed desk jockeys like me.’ Well. I suppose it depends on the desk jockey.
Here’s the thing. In 1975, Olivia Newton John posed an important question. Have you never been mellow?
Whether your restriction is physical or emotional, you got to get mellow before change happens. You got to shoo the tension out of you– like the Pied Piper relocated rats (or children, who can also be very stressful and dirty)– so the space left can get healthy again.
Sometimes, unfortunately, yoga misses the boat on relaxation. Despite all the talk about letting go and breathing deep, I’ve experienced more than a few classes that leave me as wound up as a circus person assigned to a desk job. My energy increases until it’s almost atmospheric. I roll up my mat feeling like I’ve layered magma on top of jet fuel over candy. I’m about to ignite and it’s going to be sticky. And that’s when I know: I did a Type-A practice on a Type-A day. I have so much Type-A going on that nothing less than controlling the world will do. Which is a condition that no one else in the world should have to bear. After all, the world is for sharing.
Which leads me to a suggestion for all of us. To ingratiate myself with the yoga superfans out there, I concede that yoga, properly contemplated and mindfully performed, can do no wrong. But part of the problem these days is the lack of contemplation and mindful performance. So how about this? What if we all got a little mellow about our practice and slowed it down? What if we modified it on Type-A days so our magma doesn’t blow a gasket? Or even acknowledged that we’ve been having Type-A days for years and we could stand a few weeks of restorative poses to find the ground beneath us. Try some forward bends with long, extended exhales. Try a practice without a single standing pose. Gasp. This is where the elastic mind comes in. It withstands the settling of the sand. And the clarity that follows.
I base my practice and my teaching on building sustainable strength and movement by releasing tension. I teach Slow Yoga so my students can actually connect to their breath, and then feel the difference in movement when the body moves from a place of calm. From here, I think we find our true integrity. It is not just becoming upright, but doing so in a way that will endure whatever decent, right and awesome act we pursue.
It’s not a new idea. Massage therapists have known for a while that clients on the table gain range of motion when they settle into their relaxation response. I occasionally have massage clients who complain of shoulder stiffness, climb on the table, breathe a few times, and can’t remember which side hurts. And other yoga teachers and researchers are finding that increasing flexibility requires a nervous system that’s prepared to allow a change in the movement patterns it’s come to rely on. There’s a growing chorus of folks out there preaching the mellow. May we all bless St. ONJ for her early prescription.
We find our calm, and clarity follows. We find clarity and gain our strength. It is built from a flexible foundation that allows for all of our dynamics. This, like a good earthquake retrofit, will keep us from falling apart when we shake ourselves up. It keeps us from stacking rigidity on rigidity, stress upon stress, magma over jet fuel.
So sing with me: Have you never been mellow? Give it a try and see just how elastic you can be as a strong, calm person.