When I first began to study yoga, I was instantly drawn to the recurring theme of moving from out to in. The eight-limbed path of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, commonly viewed as a ladder with eight rungs, outlines a framework for yoga practice. Beginning with the yamas, which are ethical restraints and disciplines, and ending with samadhi, the enlightened union of wisdom and compassion, the yoga practitioner moves from an outward focus of right action in society to an ultimate inward experience. Interestingly, the asana or physical practice of the yoga postures that many of us recognize only constitutes one of these rungs on the ladder. Yoga philosophy additionally presents the ideas of koshas, or sheaths of the self. Beginning again with the periphery of the body, the yoga practitioner can continue moving inward through these sheaths towards the core of the self or the soul.
Anyone who has known me in the past year or so can tell you I’ve been highly interested in introversion and extroversion, and I know that the insights on this personality trait from Susan Cain’s book, Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, have been shared on mindbodybrew before. According to Cain, aside from gender and sexual orientation, where we lie on the introversion/extroversion spectrum is one of the most telling aspects of our lives and how we interact with others. It influences our career choices, the friends we make, our health, and our romantic relationships, just to name a few.
I have no shame in telling you all that on the introversion/extroversion spectrum, I most certainly fall to the introverted side. Despite a love of communicating and a lifetime of performing as a dancer, my instinctual and natural focus has always been toward my inner world. In a sense I have felt that yoga gives me both the structure and permission to draw inward on a regular basis. The world of my yoga practice seems to be endless, a curious unfolding of elements that simply continues on and on. When one practice ends, I’m ready for the next. Many of you may feel the same.
Lately though, as a new teacher, I’ve been thinking much more about moving outward. The basic act of teaching necessitates an outward focus, an attention and care to students and their surroundings. In a recent teacher workshop with Mind Body Dancer® teacher and medical student Alex West, we learned that the work we do as yoga teachers for a general population of people who are stressed out, tired, and unhealthy can be enormously impactful on the overall health and well-being of our society. Everywhere I go, when I tell people that I’m a yoga teacher, I meet at least one person who seems to be craving the physical and mental benefits that I know yoga can offer.
In other words, yoga doesn’t belong in the closet. There is a real and pressing need for people to de-stress and care for their bodies and minds, a need that yoga teachers have been trained to meet in many ways. At the risk of straying towards evangelism, I’m wondering more and more about the outward focus of the yoga practice and how we can share the inner world we experience as practitioners with those around us. From what I can tell, the Eight Limbs of the yoga practice are not meant to be viewed in ascending order. One rung on the ladder is not more important than the other; each rung is important in keeping the entire structure intact. So while my personal preferences lean towards the steps that draw me inward, I’m working on expanding my focus so that I begin to move out.
I recently had the opportunity to attend a performance skills workshop for dancers. This workshop gave me the rare opportunity to focus not on the execution of movement, but on the communicative power and range of my performance. Afterwards, when speaking with some of the teachers about how to amplify my range, my takeaways were simple: See other people. Look out and don’t retreat.
Perhaps this applies to you, and perhaps it doesn’t. Maybe you’re someone who spends most of their life expending energy on others and desperately needs the time and focus required to move inward. Wherever you lie on this spectrum, I think it’s important to remember that both the outward and inward elements of the yoga practice keep the whole ladder together. I know that my task for the coming months is to see people and move out. What’s yours?
- Katherine Moore