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 Foundation and Yoga Pedagogy students, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is a piece written by one of our newest, current students, Julia Galanski, about a recent yoga class with TaraMarie Perri.
This past Wednesday, I participated in TaraMarie’s yoga class at Tisch Dance. The guiding anatomical focus of our class was the shoulder joint. This central idea allowed us to explore what openness in the chest could be as well as encouraging us to practice different pathways between asanas.
We began at the wall with a block between our legs. We used a strap to release tension across the front of our chest by finding tension in the strap. Already we set ourselves up for class by creating more room in our alignment to allow both greater stability and mobility. Our hips and spines first folded into flexion as we practiced Uttanasana before rolling up and finding a small arch backwards to the wall. After each sequence we would take a small step away from the wall. This allowed me to find more room in my back space with each cycle. Eventually, though, I reached my limit and continued to practice the cycles without moving further away from the wall. Even in this beginning movement I began to see a theme of creating more space in the body.
As the class continued we were challenged to move through our flow cycle with a different pathway. We took our downward facing dog directly to Chaturanga and then pressed up into upward dog. When we did cat and cow we used different verbal cues that focused on pulling the shoulder blades together, then releasing them. This called my attention to new spaces in my body. I was thinking of my side waist and my neck waist. I felt a physical openness across my heart and chest.
Instead of practicing an inversion we practiced half moon pose, first against the wall and then in the center. In half moon pose, once I let go of the stress attached to this difficult asana, I was amazed at the amount of ease and mobility that it allowed in the upper half of the torso. This experience connected me to the readings in The Wisdom of No Escape. Pema Chödrön writes, “We encourage ourselves to develop an open heart and an open mind to heaven, to hell, to everything” (32). This sense of openness, in my shoulders and in my approach to class, allowed me to learn information about my practice that I didn’t know I did not have. Chödrön also talks about continually finding your “edge” in your life. When my practice works to discover and create new spaces, I can find and push new limits.
TaraMarie began class by discussing her observation that more and more New Yorkers seem to be walking with their heads down and shoulders slumped, partially because of the need to see the street but also because of the prevalence of smartphones. I know that I allow myself to fall into this closed posture. I thought about my walk to class. The images that come to mind are of concrete, my phone screen, and crosswalks. This posture is not only an improper spinal alignment, but also a way of moving through the world that shuts me off from the people I pass on the street. This starting thought returned in the end of the practice. We spent a few minutes in meditation. It was the first time I had participated in this kind of meditation and it brought me back to reading The Wisdom of No Escape. We kept our eyes open and focused on our exhale. This mindful practice made me feel aware and present.
At first though, it felt separate from the class I had just taken. Then I remembered that Chödrön writes, “When we meditate, we’re creating a situation in which there’s a lot of space…you can see very clearly” (54). Our class did just not focus on anatomical space but the mental space to find new pathways between poses or the space to explore being present. Chödrön also discusses the idea that this is not a goal to reach but “being awake to the ebb and flow and movement” (17). To me, finding this kind of connectivity in my practice whether it is mental or physical lets me access a sense of the limitless possibilities and variability in yoga. It allows me to see the space that exists for me to continue growing in this practice for years to come.