I took a snowboarding lesson last week. Among such gems as “Alignment is something we need to be vigilant about” and “Your breath is the best tool you have on the mountain,” my teacher taught me an acronym for riding that seems relevant to yoga practice both on and off the mat: Visualize, Commit, Execute, Celebrate.
See yourself riding in good form. If you come up on challenging terrain, see yourself navigating the situation skillfully and confidently.
Decide to ride. Half way down the mountain is no time to be half-hearted or half-committed so commit to the course you have visualized.
Well, this one seems obvious enough, right? Do the thing.
If the ride went well, great. If you fell into a pile of powder and spend 30 minutes swearing and digging yourself out, well, great- you got out. Whether the execution was what you had hoped for or not, there is always something to celebrate such as survival, a learning moment, and so on.
These four steps may happen in the blink of an eye or be a thoughtful, more involved process, but one of the things this approach does is help us “take hope out of the equation.” Whether it is snowboarding, kicking to the wall in handstand for the first time, opening a studio or launching a new teacher training program, “hope is not a plan.”
And sure, life is uncertain and there are variables beyond our control that affect outcomes. Still, having a clear vision for our endeavor is better than beginning with a vague sense of hope.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for hope in the Big Picture- hope for humanity to pull its collective head out of its collective you-know-what to confront the challenges of our times and the fears that have lodged themselves deeply in our individual and shared psyches and made their way into our institutions, sure. I have hope for that because I have faith in the ever-present nature of Grace and Love to triumph and yet, in the immediate sense I think education, soul-searching, some good therapy and difficult conversations with self and others is going to be the means through which my Big Picture Hope comes alive. And voting. But I digress.
Visualization is not magical thinking. Visualization is grounded in skills. In snowboarding, I can imagine myself soaring down the hill all I want, but if I don’t understand edges, weight distribution and speed management, well, I am most likely going to be in a pile of snow with something broken not long after I begin my run. In snowboarding, visualization is not just imagining myself going down the hill but imagining how I am going to do that.
In asana, I may want to balance in handstand, do a drop back, or get my leg behind my head (although, let’s be clear, you can live a happy life without ever doing any of those things) but if I do not understand the mechanisms through which these postures occur and the progressive stages that mitigate the inherent risk of such endeavors, I will be disappointed at best, and hurt at worst. I need to know how to do the poses.
And, if I understand the steps and can see clearly where I am in terms of my skill, then I need to commit and execute. Take a drop back from tadasana to urdhva dhanruasana, for instance. I need to know to keep my weight in my legs, to bring my pelvis way forward, to lengthen my spine, lift my chest, and coil my upper back like crazy. And, even with all those things going for me and a good sequence as preparation, if I can’t see the floor behind me, I am not ready to go. Furthermore, “let’s just see if I can do it” is not really a good way to approach a pose where I could land on my head. And, if I can see the floor and I am gonna go for it, my arms need to be straight and nothing good will happen if, half-way to the floor, I am half-hearted or inattentive.
I think one reason why so many people are getting hurt in advanced poses is because they do not truly understand the process by which the poses occur. Not enough information, skill development and then the commitment and execution is either “lets see what happens” or is so full of willful zeal that there is no recognition of whether the poses is appropriate or not.
And, so, here we are having done the thing and it’s time to celebrate. Celebrate is not a simplistic, “it’s all good, life is a celebration” kind of concept but is actually an honest self-review with a mindset determined to learn, grow, and evolve through the ups-and-downs of learning through practice. When my run or pose goes “well” and I feel like “I did it!” do I know why? Can I articulate the reason behind my success so I increase the chances of being able to recreate the success and/or help others? (Teachers, we need to know why we can do things as much, if not more than we need to understand why we can’t. This is especially true for those teachers for whom many poses came easily.)
If the run or the pose didn’t go as I had hoped, do I know why? Can I identify my growing edge and acknowledge my mistakes without— and this part is key— beating myself up, criticizing my personhood or invalidating my sincerity? Can the exacting self-review be done in a spirit of compassionate celebration or at least be in a movement toward greater love? Celebrating is celebrating the fact I am on a learning journey, not celebrating that I am super competent and always kicking ass.
So, that’s what I have today in terms of learning, practicing and teaching. Lots of opportunities coming your way to join me in the process— Online Teacher Training Studies in Form and Flow, 2020-21 Advanced Teacher Training, Intensives and Workshops and online classes with Yoga International.
Regardless of your vision— snowboarding, asana studies, teacher development, or getting through holidays with a semblance of equanimity, I hope this entry finds you developing your skills, committing to what maters, doing your thing with joy and recognizing the many ways Life is always there to help you learn.
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"There is a light that shines beyond all things on Earth, beyond us all, beyond the heaven, beyond the highest, the very highest heavens. This is the light that shines in our heart."