I’m still processing my getaway last month to study Axis Syllabus at Earthdance in Massachusetts. On the way back to DC, I stopped at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where an offhand sentence in their “Modern Times” exhibit jumped out at me more than any one painting, and helped to lend clarity to my exploration into non-yoga territory in the first place: it was a description of Henri Matisse as “an artist who emphasized brilliant colors over realistic tones and used that vibrant palette to change how people perceived familiar subjects and places.” I’ve long loved Matisse – I had a poster of one of his paintings in my teenage bedroom – and when I read that, I thought Oh! That’s what we’re doing in yoga. That’s Warrior II. It’s a bold shape that we’d probably never place our body in outside of a yoga studio (unless you are also a fencer), and yet, it can make us more aware of our body – this familiar place that we spend all of our time in, but so often tune out of.
I used to really, really love Warrior II. It’s a pose that a lot of people feel a sense of strength in. You get to take up a lot of space in Warrior II – something that many of us perhaps feel as though we're not allowed to do off of our mats.
I still love Warrior II, but when I practice and teach it now, it’s unlikely that I have us hold it for five unmoving breaths, and I don’t repeatedly enter it from down dog or Warrior I as in some styles, and I don’t obsess about the front knee making a 90 degree angle. Not because it’s wrong to do any/all of that for some yogis (though yoga teacher and physical therapist Ariele Foster has made a strong case for a shorter, higher stance based on the how the pose affects the hip of the back leg) – but because there are myriad other ways of moving and being still, such as the blanket-sliding version of Warrior II above. And when we spend all our time moving in the same ways, we lose out on other ways of learning to be strong. We can learn other movements, practice them in repetition to create a sense of flow and ease, and play with load and resistance. We can be movement artists, and movement scientists, and still be yogis.
Once a practitioner’s perception of the self is there, lit up by the vibrant palette of traditional yoga postures, we don’t have to keep painting with the same shades to stay in presence. I even think that after we’ve got a firm grasp of traditional yoga, we’re due for finding vibrancy in other ways, exploring the colors and textures that aren’t on the palette in front of us. We can embrace subtlety, and still feel ourselves. Or try different combinations, mix up our landscapes (the kind of surface we practice on), the tools we use to create our movement art in the first place (props) – all ways to challenge our ability to be present in a world of changing conditions. Because if we start getting so familiar with Warrior II that it doesn’t take much focus to be in it, we’ll need to practice it in a new way so that we’re perceiving ourselves with fresh clear eyes again.
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Fortify Your Foundation - Strengthening Practices for Your Wrists and Ankles - this Saturday, July 21 @ 2 p.m. at Willow Street Yoga Takoma Park. So many movement practices focus on our core muscles and our spine - for good reason, we definitely need them to cooperate! But if we can't transmit the strength of our body into what actually connects to the ground, then arm balancing let alone walking isn't going to happen with ease. I can't wait to teach a few new exercises + tons of others that have made lightbulbs go off for people who attended the previous two iterations of this workshop. If you're a yogi with so-called weak wrists or balance issues, I so hope you can make it. There's a lot we can do to 'wake up' and strengthen tissues in your hands and feet so you can transition into and hold a greater variety of yoga postures (or do anything else that asks for articulation of the hands and feet, like climbing, cooking, biking or dancing). More info + registration here.
One of the joys of starting a yoga practice is moving in lots of ways it doesn't usually move, and over time, perhaps feeling stronger and more open in shapes that once felt impossible. But after months or years of consistent practice (or even on and off practice!) of the same families of poses, many yogis' movement learning slows, as we keep asking the body to perform the same kinds of poses and transitions. In particular, we do so much pushing in yoga with our upper body, but not much pulling, and lots of glute/hamstring stretching, but not as much glute/hamstring strengthening. In some yogis, this leads to imbalances across joints that may contribute to pain and instability.
Have you ever wondered, why can I do push-ups or even handstands, but not pull-ups? Why can I do a deep pigeon, but not get up and down off the ground with control without using my hands? In this workshop, we'll do some course correction - adding some pulling movements, incorporating props in different ways, and filling in some of the missing pieces of a healthy movement diet. If you're feeling stuck, bored, or uninspired in your yoga practice, come. If you love yoga, but don't feel as strong as you used to, definitely come. Register here.
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I've got 2 more weeks of Thursday night beginner classes at Simon Says Yoga in Bethesda, and am delighted to support mamas-to-be next month at Circle Yoga in Chevy Chase. Keep track of all my guest teaching gigs + other group classes right over here.