Saturday, January 9, 2010

On Preferences

Wow, I think I've painted myself into a corner.  After writing about death, fear, and faith in my last piece, what can I possibly say to follow up?!  Let's just move along...

I'm really enjoying my return to daily practice.  Today marked day nine of the 101 day Bikram yoga challenge, and I did my first "double" of the year this morning, taking the 8am and 10am classes back-to-back.  Felt great!  Since I'm heading to teacher training in a few months, and my semi-unemployed status leaves me with plenty of time to kill, I think I will be doing a lot of doubles in January and February.  It should get my body better prepared for the training (where we do 11 classes every week), and I actually enjoy doing ridiculous amounts of yoga.  Disclaimer: I'm a little bit of a freak.  You don't necessarily want to try this at home.

My second class today was interesting, because my body was super flexible right from the start.  This might sound terrific, especially for a 10am class, but I could tell right away that it was going to make the postures tricky.  Extra bendy + little bit tired = body parts flopping all over the place!  In that first half moon side bend, my whole upper body just went flop down to the side, and then I was belatedly trying to line everything back up with my body bent over at 90 degrees to the side.  Oops.  Being all loose and limber meant that I really had to work to keep good form!  I kept imagining the voice of one of my teachers telling me, "Use your muscles!"

It's funny how many of the goals we like to set for ourselves are based on depth: straighten the leg, see the wall, touch the floor.  Because in my experience, being very flexible does not make your life any easier in class!  I was recently talking with a friend about early morning Bikram classes, and she was saying that she just hates practicing in the morning because she is more stiff, so her classes are "bad."  But I don't believe that being a little bit stiffer makes your practice bad; it just makes it different.  You get to focus on so many other things, like strength, alignment, and technique!  All of these aspects are just as valuable as flexibility. 

Earlier this week, I was re-reading a passage in my favorite book that talked about the "harassment of preferences."  You know what I mean by preferences, don't you?  We decide that we love one posture, but hate another one.  We prefer a certain teacher, a certain class time, a certain temperature in the room.  We love being flexible at night but hate being stiff in the morning.  We love balancing but hate falling.  And we get so freaking attached to these preferences!  I've convinced myself of all kinds of ridiculous things.  For almost my whole yoga career, I have loved the second side of standing bow but hated the first side.  What is that all about?!  It certainly doesn't help me at all.  It's a silly example, but a true one.

The catch is that none of these preferences really serve us.  When we think, "I only like this," "I really hate that," it just creates discontent.

According to my little book, one of our goals in practice is to move away from those preferences and bring some kind of equilibrium.  Instead of going through class thinking, "this part rules!" and "this part sucks!", you eventually want to remain level.  Whether you're flexible or stiff, a virtuoso or a beginner, your emotions shouldn't be affected.  Instead constantly telling yourself "this posture is my worst one" or "this posture is so easy," you can just tell yourself "this posture is."  And then do the posture!

Simple in theory, more difficult in practice.  But like always, a lot of benefit comes from trying...

10 comments:

Johan said...

What is it Bikram says: If yoga was being flexible gymnasts would be the greatest yogis. Or something to that effect. I guess I would count as one of the people of the flexible body type. When I started Bikram I notice rather sharp movement towards a stiffer body (f.e. forward bend in half moon I just couldn't keep the knees straight). I had a discussion with Mina who owns the studio I visited in Sweden. She came to Bikram after about 10 years of other forms of yoga and noticed the same. Her comment was that the flexibility will come back and when it does it will be supported. Unlike most other ways of building flexibility where the muscles don't keep up and you just end up injuring yourself.
I believe your also the flexible type and a lot of people see that (especially beginners) and think oh my god, how lucky is she. What they don't realise is just how much muscle work you've got to put in to save the body from that flexibility.
Wow I certainly went of on one. What I wanted to say is I'm starting to look for grace more than anything else in the postures. You can't fake the grace by resting on the part that's easy to you. Nor is it something that you need to be a special body type or have a particular type of practice to hold. Maybe not in your first class or two when you're learning the postures. But from there on in you can have grace no matter what your body is doing that day.

thedancingj said...

Whoops, i did not mean to publish that post... was not done writing it... *head-desk*

thedancingj said...

Ok, now I'm done writing the post. :) But Johan, yep, you've got the concept!

Incidentally, I will go to my grave insisting that I DO NOT have a naturally flexible body type. I was flexible when I came to yoga because I'd already spend the last 15 years constantly stretching my body for ballet. (I was super motivated to stretch because I was the least flexible little girl in ballet.) But none of my teachers believe me!!! Haha.

Johan said...

Who said anything about natural flexible. :-) I spent years getting my flexible in gymnastics, but that was 20 years ago. Strange how muscle memory work. But I digress. What I was going to say is, I think all children have the potential to go either way. It just not very common for children to get as rounded a training as yoga so
most wind up either side of the scale. And we live with those choices (early year activities) until we make a real efford to change our body.

Big G said...

One of my favorite pieces of advice by a teacher is to view the class as a whole, not as a bunch of individual postures. This helps knock out considerations about "loving this posture" or "hating this posture." I try to follow this as much as possible. I've been asked what my favorite and least favorite postures are, and I don't have an answer.

The whole class is what I like. Which is why I am loathe to sit out any posture. It's rare for me to do that. Even if I'm wiped out, I'll at least do some form of the posture, even if I'm just focusing on form and doing almost no depth.

I know some people that consistently sit out one set of certain postures, and I think it's just silly. It's not THAT hard to at least set up for a posture and go a little bit into it.

It's funny you mention not being a "flexible-type." I've heard the datum that there are "flexible" and "strong" types of people. I'm convinced I was neither when I started, and I think it's worked to my advantage. I've never had a choice but to work hard on everything.

Anonymous said...

One thing I love about yoga is the opportunity to be in the moment. Yoga practice offers me this incredible, beautiful gift. As I read your post I asked why don't I ever feel or ask myself the questions of what I prefer during class. I guess I have no expectation or preference except what the dialogue provides, and my body's reply. Several years ago I had an incredible life changing experience that forced me to come into the moment for no other reason than to survive. Later I started doing yoga. I don't think a painful life changing experience is a requisite to learn to live in the moment. I think often of what Thic Nhat Hanh says "The present moment is the only moment available to us, and it is the door to all moments."

thedancingj said...

I like your digressions, Johan, we are so alike! I totally agree about kids and their potential. This is why it would be SO AWESOME if yoga could get into schools... just think of it!

Greg - Yeah, it's ALL hard, that sounds about right! I think the flexy/strong thing is more like a spectrum. You'll see people who are REALLY obviously on one end or another of the spectrum, but plenty of people sit somewhere in between.

Anonymous - Yes, gorgeous. Living in the present moment really IS the gist of this whole thing, isn't it? Sounds like you have an awesome understanding of that already. In that sense, I bet you were never truly a "beginner" to yoga, even in your very first class...

bikramyogachick said...

Whenever I decide I "hate half moon" (for awhile, I did hate that posture!) or any other negative preference, I try to flip it around and say "I need half moon". Whatever posture is uncomfortable is the one we need the most, right?
I'm not naturally flexible either, but I'm certainly alot more flexi that I was before starting bikram!

ariella said...

being attached to preferences is one of the root causes of suffering, indeed. One of the four noble truths as taught by Buddha.

Congrats on going to the spring training! Sounds like you'll be as ready as you can be physically. So... how's that dialogue study going? They will send you dialogue with only partial payment... if you can - memorize the standing series AT LEAST before you get there.

You will be happy to the point of being smug (I would have been at least) and you'll be able to help others memorize. I had up through eagle and survived, but I wish I had had the big ones towards the end of standing series done.

Congratulations!

thedancingj said...

Totally. The postures we like least are the ones we need most!! Or as Bikram says it: "The more you suffer, you must be happy! You are getting more benefit from my class!" Sigh...

Thanks Ariella! I'm nearly verbatim up thru triangle now, and I don't think I'll have any trouble finishing the whole thing by the end of February. (I like memorizing stuff.) I will get to spend my time at training helping other people and trying NOT to be a smug asshole!! Hehe.