Saturday, February 6, 2010

Creating the Cramp

Did you know that forgetting the dialogue makes you better at your postures?

There's a little truism which says that you teach the way you practice.  This is a pretty logical statement, and I've definitely witnessed it in action many times!  This statement also suggest that, when I'm practicing practicing the dialogue and trying to remember all the instructions, the bits that I forget to say are probably the bits that I'm forgetting to do.  This is one of my favorite side-effects of dialogue study.  Every time I have trouble remembering a line, I dig up another detail that I need to pay better attention to in my personal practice!

My absolute favorite so far has been a line in Standing Head to Knee: "You should feel tremendous stretching underneath both legs, create cramp on top of the thigh."  I went through a whole string of postures a week or two ago, and that was the one line that I completely forgot about.  So I said to myself, "Hmmmm.  I sure am using the top of the thigh on my kicking leg, but am I really using it as much as possible?  Am I actually trying to create a cramp?"

Big surprise: I totally was not.  I was just kinda hanging out a little bit.  It would look exactly the same to any teacher (except for maybe one of the psychic ones), but the intent to actually create cramp was not there.  Guess what happened when I started trying to create a cramp?  The answer is NOT! "I got a cramp."  The answer is, "I got about 500x more stable going into and out of the full expression of standing head to knee."  Whaddaya know.

I like this idea of trying to create cramp, because it's counter-intuitive.  In most activities, you try to avoid a cramp.  If you get a cramp when you're running, you might have to stop running.  If you get a cramp when you're swimming in the ocean, you die!  But if you get a cramp in yoga, it means you're doing good.  (Though you might want to eat a banana later.)

I love these directions that tell us to move towards discomfort.  There's a similar instruction in the beginning of class, in half moon: "You are trying to create a tremendous stretching feeling..."  Especially when you're new to it, stretching doesn't feel so good.  Like a muscle cramp, it's an unpleasant feeling that you would rather avoid.  But you have to try to create that feeling; you have to actually look for it and invite it into your body.  Eventually, it will feel natural and good.  These are the sensations of change and growth in your body.  But at first, moving towards discomfort this way will seem like a crazy and radical thing to do.

"Create tremendous stretching."  "Create cramp."  "Shoulders are supposed to hurt."  "Make sure your back hurts."  What's the point of these instructions?  Your teachers don't want to hurt you!  They just want you to inhabit that uncomfortable place where change can happen, instead of following your instincts and running away from it.  Change is always uncomfortable, and often painful.  It's so much easier to stay the way we are.  Stay in the same posture.  Stay in the same job, the same relationship, the same apartment, the same city.  It's easier that way.  But in yoga, we practice moving into discomfort, and we find out that it's not such a scary place after all.  (You thought it was going to hurt, but instead it made your body feel better.)

In other words, we learn courage.  One Standing Head-to-Knee at a time.


Anny said...

I just started bikram a few weeks ago and am always perplexed when the instructor tells us to hurt ourselves - I agree on how counter-intuitive it seems! Maybe I'll try to hurt myself tomorrow ;)

Sisya said...

J, I really want to take a class from you. You are going to be one amazing teacher. I just love your insights into this yoga. Thanks for another great post!

KatieO said...

You've gotta love how J pulls every post back (forward?) into thoughts about the Big Picture of our lives. Wise girl, here. Let me give you two of my favorite quotes around this (I also have lots of quotes in my head, or my computer, anyway).

"Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says, 'I'll try again tomorrow.'" from Mary Anne Radmacher-Hershey

"Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?"
Frank Skully

aHappyYogi said...

As always, you pinpoint down another small but important thing about the dialoughe and the yoga.

I am so impressed of you.

catherine said...

We learn courage.


thedancingj said...

Anny - Glad I could shed a little light for you! It IS all kinda weird and confusing at first, and you go through classes thinking "who what HUH?!" for a while. SO normal!! Over time, it all makes more and more sense.

Sisya - Awwww. Thank you. :)

KatieO - Hi Mom. Nice quotes. Aren't those the ones that are LITERALLY on your computer? Like, taped on the sides of your computer? Haha.

On a less silly note, I often have no idea WHAT the Big Picture is going to be until I get done writing... and this is why writing is so much fun!

cristina - AWWW, thanks! I love the details - little yoga mouse. ;)

catherine - :) :)

hannahjustbreathe said...

It's too early for me to think critically about this awesome post---and so, quite simply, YES.

Some of my favorites from the yoga room: "You hurt to heal." "Kill pain with pain." "You have to work through the discomfort to get to the other side."

Such simple statements but with so much truth and meaning.

Anonymous said...

totally thought of this yesterday evening in class...and it totally helped! still fell out but, it felt stronger. I'm focused on flexing the foot, that helps to keep the hip engaged and forward (easy to end up sticking the butt out as the elbows go below the calf)(muscle)(not baby cow). great advice/insight from you once again, building stronger practices for all. ~hcp

bikramyogachick said...

Wow, I hear that all of the time the cramp reference, but I've never actually TRIED to create a cramp! I usually avoid cramps. Huh. What a cool point you have Miss J! Tonight I will try to create cramp in standing head to knee!!

thedancingj said...

hannah - Pain kills the pain!! (SOMETIMES.) Yeah, it's a big one for sure. Thanks. <3

hcp - NOT BABY COW!! Bwaaaahaha. Is THAT why we always have to say "calf muscle"? Flexing the foot, that's another great second set instruction! "You have to learn how to FLEX the foot, to stretch the achilles tendon just above the heel." Nice. Glad this was helpful!!

BYC - I'm laughing so hard at your comment. "I've heard that so many times but never tried it!!" Doesn't that just sum up SO much of the practice, sometimes?!

Meg VR said...

I have been going for the cramp this week in my kicking leg. It helps! Also really sucking in my abdominal wall. It makes me feel like some very very sturdy bridge. Not just hanging out letting my bones do the work, which tends to make me wobbly. Thanks!

Definitely changing my attitude towards discomfort and pain in practice and in life...

Dixie Ryall said...

That part about creating a cramp on the top of the thigh...I think I try to believe that does not apply to me! I hate that part of the dialogue. After 18 months or Bikram, I have just startied kicking out and can only interlock my hands on one side...and now I have to start thinking about creating a cramp! Thanks a lot!! :)

thedancingj said...

Meg - YEAH! That's the other thing I've been noticing - it almost feels like a "lock" when you seriously use your abdominal wall AND the top of the kicking leg. Sturdy is a good word for it!

Dixie - Hahahaha... that damn yoga! Just when you start to get the hang of one thing, it turns out that now you have to do something ELSE! What's up with that?! ;-) I did a lot of "selective listening" myself for quite a long time...

Prodigal Yogini said...

Sorry I'm commenting on this SO much later. I learned a quote from a retreat I go to every fall that really speaks to this. "You can be uncomfortable and still be okay." So much of our modern lives is about staying comfortable. We can manipulate the temperature in our houses and cars, we can listen to music while we complete onerous tasks, we can eat comfort food when we're miserable. Growth doesn't tend occur in that comfortable space however, but in the places we're pushed!

I often think of that quote when I find myself shying away from the edge. I also think of it when my teachers push me to reach a little beyond the comfortable space I am in.

Go, go, go!

thedancingj said...

Hey, don't be sorry, there's no deadline! :) That quote is PERFECT.