Today is Thursday. Thursday at our house usually means Kelly sees patients and I work at my desk. After an early dinner, Kelly goes to the local music jam while Locket and I stay home. But today, Thursday means that I not only get some time alone at home with my pup, I get to watch Picard. So, in honor of Jean Luc and the team being back together, I thought I would talk about how yoga is like space exploration.
On one of the missions of the Next Generation, the crew encountered an anomaly in deep space. Being the intrepid explorers that they were, they sent a probe into the center of the anomaly. No answer. Again, they sent in a probe. No answer. And on and on the probe went into space until finally, they received a response.
I can’t think of a better metaphor for a lot of what happens in your average alignment-oriented yoga class than sending a probe into space and not getting an immediate answer. I remember my teachers saying things like, “Which sitting bone is heavier?” and “Which side of your torso feels longer?” and “Which way is the skin flowing?” and so on. I would send my attention inward to those places and come up with nothing beyond a vague sense of frustration and futility. Meanwhile, other students in the room shouted out their findings with great confidence and authority.
I believed that there were differences within my body and imbalances there to be felt. I believed other people were feeling them inside themselves. I maybe believed that one day I would feel something also. But in so many moments along the way, when I sent the probe of my awareness into the deep inner space of my body, I received no immediate answer.
Until, of course, I did.
Many of you with a background in Anusara yoga remember the Inner Spiral, a complex set of energetic actions that 1) turns the legs in, 2) moves the inner edges of the feet and legs back, and 3) widens the legs and pelvis apart. (If you did not learn Inner Spiral, don’t get lost here— the relevant part for my story is the IN, BACK, and APART.)
So, there I am in a workshop in Atlanta, Georgia with John Friend during an afternoon hip opening class in which he repeated instructed the activation of Inner Spiral throughout the session. About 3/4 of the way through class, I exclaimed, “Oh my God!”
I was in the front row and John was right in front of me. He looked at me and said, “What?”
I exclaimed, “Inner Spiral!!! I feel it!”
He said, “What do you feel?”
I said, “It moves IN, BACK, and APART!!!”
Keep in mind, I was a certified Anusara yoga teacher at the time and had taught a lot of people about Inner Spiral. I passed the test on it, knew lots of tricks for activating it, and even had seen the positive effects of it in many of my poses. (And yes, I know not everyone saw Inner Spiral as positive thing and some people had some deleterious effects from it, etc. Debating Inner Spiral is not the point of my story.) Anyway, on that particular day, all of a sudden after a long period of time, in a weird hotel ballroom with terrible carpeting, I felt Inner Spiral as an energetic phenomenon just as it was described to me, just as I had described it to others, and yet, in a completely new way. At that moment, Inner Spiral became an embodied experience as opposed to a concept or a set of mechanical alignment instructions.
Deep space had returned my probe.
In a sense, every time we execute an instruction, bring awareness to our position in space, endeavor to activate our muscles, encourage the movement of an energetic flow, and/or reflect on any level of our experience within the pose— from how it feels, to how it makes us feel, to the endless cascading effects of our actions within the posture— we are sending probes into space. And like the crew of the SS Enterprise found, we do not always get an immediate response back.
I personally think this “no return message” ordeal is why so many people do not enjoy alignment-oriented yoga. In the same way no one likes text messages, voice mails, or emails to go unreturned, no one relishes the part of the asana journey where we seem to come up empty-handed in our efforts. The process I am describing takes time, is filled with empty space and plenty of uncertainty. Many of us competency-oriented types are frustrated wandering around in inner space and would rather than be on the solid ground of concrete rules, visible progress, and clear maps for the territory we are traveling.
And yet, the repeated inquiry—the repeated attempt to being awareness to bear on the process of posture—creates an effect that ripples through the space of our being over time. In the same way that the Enterprise crew eventually discovered that the probe itself was creating the disturbance they were investigating, our efforts to pay attention, to activate, participate, and reflect on ourselves within the pose are a disturbance of their own. They disturb our habitual consciousness, taking us off automatic pilot and giving us some agency over the way we navigate in and through ourselves.
Ultimately, the way of steering I am describing moves the practitioner beyond the level of alignment that is outcome-oriented and achievement-based. This way of working invites us to become less dependent on improvement, prowess, or the execution of fancy poses. This frontier in practice frees us from the misconception that alignment is an imposition of form, and shows us that alignment protocols can be a means by which we compare and contrast, explore where we truly are not where we want to be, where we step beyond rules and dogma into the vastness inside ourselves where we have not gone before.
So, like that. Star Trek is to outer space as alignment is to inner space.
And Picard has a dog in the show, which is awesome.
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