Discernment in Yoga practice

At her keynote talk at the Yoga Service Conference in May, Beryl Bender Birch talked about the Yoga Sutras, yogic philosophy, and the work of doing service. I have a broad view of service, and think that we all do service — as teachers, parents, partners, caregivers, etc. So I think what she said is relevant to each of us. “If we are doing the work of service, ” she said, “we have a responsibility to practice.”   And in some regards,  I think Beryl is a radical in some yoga — especially asana centric– circles– because she broadens the idea of practice way out from one particular practice and says that the Yoga Sutras tell us to ” make an effort to keep our mind steady” and if we do find a steady mind, “anything we do is practice. ” Practice is anything that gives us access to consciousness, which Beryl defined in a way I loved as “scientific understanding of the inner workings of the mind.”

Today at yoga class, a discussion arose about a weekend workshop. There was discussion about particular directions in poses for particular muscles and muscle groups. I love these explorations. I love digging into the physical body in postures to explore what happens when I do X, what happens when I do Y. Many seasoned and advanced teachers have the amazing capacity to introduce isolated (and integrated) movements for exploration that have given me access to parts of my body, to particular postures, and most importantly to a steadier mind, a clearer understanding of myself in a given moment in time. And yet, sometimes we get stuck on those instructions.

Perhaps our biggest challenge as educators of any methodology of yoga, and especially ones that utilize varied and detailed instructions, is to play with sharing tools and techniques without becoming mired down in particulars. If a teacher is teaching a particular technique, it is not the technique that matters; it is actually the way the students respond to the technique, whether or not it is a tool that students can use for greater access to their muscles, greater understanding of their postures, and ultimately a deeper capacity to establish a steady mind.  The techniques are tools to help us to develop discrimination and discernment, so that we can be more present, less pulled around by the changing nature of everything that is around us. And in that space, we can find a solid place to stand and serve from.

© Traci Childress, 2013.



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