Where is My Body? How Yoga Practice Answers That Question
When I started doing yoga, I was confused a lot. Always having a hard time remembering left and right, and also being somewhat disembodied after years of residing in my frontal lobe, I had trouble following direction. In Warrior II, when the teacher said to turn my back foot in one way, I would often turn it the other way. Sometimes I would bend forward instead of sideways. Even how, over 10 years of yoga practice, when my yoga teacher says to breathe into my back body, I have moments of not knowing how.
Teaching yoga, I see the same dislocation in some of my students, especially new ones. Leading people in Triangle at the wall, I saw one person lean forward and try to touch his toes instead. It might look odd, but I realized he was experiencing what I did when I began yoga. At times, when I looked out at the class and realized everyone else was doing something very different than I was, I felt embarrassed, so I wanted to take care not to point out someone’s vastly different interpretation of a pose. On the other hand, how could I help someone move toward a greater alignment for himself, one that would build strength, endurance, courage and flexibility?
I noticed the toe-toucher in Triangle was trying to lift up one arm and twist around a little to make himself look more like he was doing Triangle. Going around the room, I lightly moved a nearby chair closer to his toe-touching hand, and gently put that hand on the back of the chair, and prompted him to lift a little more from his side. It still didn’t look anything like Triangle, but at least the student was stretching from his side a little.
Sometimes when students do completely different things from what I’m saying, I try to give a verbal prompt to the class. When people are doing Warrior II as Triangle, it’s easy enough to talk about bending the front knee, or in a sitting twist, remind people of what they should see when look down. Yet since I don’t do a lot of hands-on prompting and rearranging of people’s bodies, I try not to repeatedly zip over to people who aren’t getting what the pose is, spotlighting a student who doesn’t have a clear sense of space and body.
I know from experience that this sense—and it is a sense, just like sight, smell, taste—is one we can cultivate over time. Before yoga, I routinely bumped into counter edges or doorframes; now I don’t. Yoga practice does that: It shows us where we live, literally, in each motion and breath. It gives us our bodies back by locating us in space and time so we can align our bodies with the life force.