Gert on yoga III

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Don’t Listen to Your Body!

When we practice yoga, we move from start position A to end position B. These end positions have become enormously important in the yoga world. You see them displayed everywhere, in magazines, books, on the websites of yoga celebrities, YouTube and so on. There are even yoga championships.

When I give lessons and courses in other countries, I come into contact with many different yoga forms. It strikes me that very often, the instructions on how to arrive at end position B are far too simple: The yoga GPS is expected to bring us to the desired address, smooth and easy.

For a while I gave classes to the Olympic men’s rowing team. They had previously had lessons from a flexible instructor who explained everything by the book. There was frustration all around, because how can you stretch your hamstrings if your back is not even able to connect to them? They missed the deeper connections.

Life has many demands, and they leave their mark. Just look around you – we all begin upright, and by the end of our lives nearly all of us are bent over, our skeletons transformed. It’s more extreme for some than others, but people everywhere follow this pattern. Everyone knows the terrible consequences of chronic strain. Back pain, shoulder and neck complaints, hip and leg problems abound, and so do their emotional correlates – anxiety, burnout and depression. Let’s not pretend we’re dealing with something simple.

If yoga is to make a real impact in solving our chronic, structural tensions, we must realize that these problems are too complex for a simple yoga GPS. Of course your GPS works fine when there are no traffic jams or detours or dead ends. Recently, when I rode through the city during a storm, my navigation system was useless because there were fallen trees blocking roads everywhere. Our bodies are full of detours, blocked intersections, and dead-ends. Some parts of our bodies have become so insensitive that whole neighborhoods have been swept from our consciousness. Try getting your bearings in such a place! It’s common advice to “listen to your body” but your body doesn’t always want to follow the best path. Throughout daily life, our bodies are constantly avoiding pain and confrontation, and they’re doing the same avoidance maneuvers during yoga class. I see it all the time.

Please, I’m urging you, don’t listen to your body!

It’s not easy to get clear amidst the chaos inside ourselves, and it takes a considerable awareness to not listen to your body. But if you can resist doing what your body demands – instead identifying and addressing its tensions before you reach end position B – you will come face to face with what holds you back. Only then can you learn to view your body’s experience from another perspective –a perspective that enables deep release. If you avoid this confrontation or try to dance around it, your tensions will continue to simmer in the background, even when your end position B looks attractive and balanced. Only when you get to this place, can you start to listen to your body.

Gert van Leeuwen