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 is an excerpt of a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Kathy Hartsell, regarding svadhyaya, or self-study.
Last Wednesday we gathered together for the first yoga class of the school year at Tisch. Anticipation was high and grounding much needed. As it was only the third day returning to movement after an extended time off for most of us, our bodies were a little in shock and in definite need of conscientious aligning. Luckily for us, our teacher, TaraMarie Perri, based her class around the visual aid of Andy Goldsworthy – an incredible sculptor, photographer, and environmentalist who emphasizes the perfection and simplicity of nature in its original state. I really appreciated her visual cues to alignment, especially on the first day back when the connection and ability to tap into the body is rusty. Bringing elements of nature into the classroom served two purposes: one spiritual, the other anatomical; both were very grounding.
Perhaps the most informative clues to our internal environments exist in our external surrounding. The delicate balance of nature suggests harmonies and stabilities that we try to mimic on our mats and in our practice. Goldsworthy’s sculptures, created out of stones, branches, ice, a multitude of materials, reveal a silent efficacy. The elements he uses recognize how to work with each other and their surroundings so discretely it takes the viewer a second to realize that the materials were redirected and shaped, that they were not always an intricate design in the landscape. We similarly are continuously being redirected and reshaped to thrive in our changing landscapes. It is from this implicit place of inner alignment that a deeper spiritual ground becomes available. Goldsworthy verbalized that concept in an interview in The Observer revealing that, “Everything has the energy of its making inside it…There is no doubt that the internal space of a rock or a tree is important to me. But when I get beneath the surface of things, these are not moments of mystery, they are moments of extraordinary clarity”. This kind of clarity is not limited to a visual clarity; rather, it extends far beyond that, manifesting itself in physical, spiritual, and emotion on the mat.
Through the practice there was one image that stayed with me – a photograph of uneven stones balanced perfectly on top of each other, extending up towards the open sky and grounding down into the sand. I particularly enjoyed this image because it baffled me – how can a stone stay balanced atop an ascending stack when it is only being supported on one side? Kaminoff put this into perspective in his spine section of Yoga Anatomy. Each individual vertebra varies in shape, just as the stones, and yet all remain balanced. Each stone finds a way to distribute and absorb the energies of the stones surrounding them. Astonishingly, these columns exist so solidly on continuously moving bases. The stones maintain an upright position despite the rotation of the planet, quiet tremors deep under the crust, and the ever-shifting plates of the Earth. They understand the right equilibrium, just as each vertebra remains intact and supportive through all sorts of flexion, extension, and twisting.
Goldsworthy tests the limits of nature just as we test the limits of the human body. The complex positions that he creates with nature and we create with our bodies exist with ease through the right intent and the correct execution of energies. We can learn a lot from our surroundings, and from the simplicity and silent revelations that unfold in and out of our practice. Sometimes the most moving information is discovered off of the mat, outside in the real world.