Mindbodybrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following was written by Frankie Fernandes, in response to her investigation of class theme development.
Upon receiving an assignment regarding the development of class themes, I spent every single yoga class working to think through the presented theme and relate it to something from my reading or my own process. I found myself over-analyzing every comment and posture for its deeper meaning and contribution to the class structure. I became more and more frustrated until I reached my peak of frustration in a twists and binds focused class. In a bound half moon workshop, I literally thought I was going to scream with anger. It was only when TaraMarie suggested we remove or release what we didn’t need that it clicked; I realized that the most frustrating class could be the most fulfilling. While the anatomical theme focused on bound postures, one comment shifted the theme of my practice to a philosophical and energetic theme of releasing the unnecessary, which easily translated into difficult postures by creating ease and a calmer breath in my movement.
In her book The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema Chodron tells the story of a woman chased by tigers to the edge of a cliff only to find more tigers below. With no escape, the woman sees a strawberry growing near to her, plucks it, and eats it with immense satisfaction. In uncomfortable moments in class, particularly any sort of precarious bind, the focus is not on getting through a posture, gritting your teeth and waiting it out, but about working through the posture.
Chodron also addresses this challenge in the idea of finding fullness in both Samsara and Nirvana. By not preferring stillness to action, we are able to work fully and effectively in both realms, realizing that they are joined ideas. In stillness we are still continuously working, and in movement we can learn to access a place of stillness and calm. This balance helps us to work through both difficult postures and difficult elements in our lives off the mat. Pema makes the very eloquent point that “just because you’re feeling depressed doesn’t mean that you have to forget how precious the whole situation is.” To avoid falling into our own traps, we must discover the ways in which we habitually shut down and learn how to actively counteract that process.
When I find myself wanting to drop from upward dog into small cobra without any real reason, for instance, I have to remember that the struggle is a journey and that commitment to either path reaps benefits. In the end, the binding class was full of moments offering choices to twist, to bind, to lift a knee or drop to a lower block level. We were prompted to find the origin of the twist in order to work more deeply and try different focuses. I was only able to achieve a balance and peacefulness in that frustrating half moon with TaraMarie’s suggestion to release what I didn’t need. That singular suggestion helped me understand exactly what Chodron was getting at: Practice, and by extension life, is about removing the “I can’t do this, I don’t want to” armor we set up around our own consciousness; about acknowledging the impermanence of moments and their resulting importance; about understanding our challenges in these moments; and about letting go. Once you release excess tension, you find that no matter what type of bind you’re in, be it physical or mental, the moment becomes much simpler than you thought. I feel my whole practice gradually shifting into one of acknowledging, understanding, and letting go.
- Frankie Fernandes