A huge variety of people come to class, with a diversity of questions, issues, and intentions. If you’ve experienced other styles of yoga, you may have noticed that the way I teach is a little different. Yes, there’s a fusion of prop and alignment based styles with a little bit of movement flow, but some of my underlying principles are different from the mainstream approach to yoga and movement. In an exchange with a student this week about my approach to scoliosis, it reminded me that a core tenet of my approach is expansion.
A large part of physical culture, indeed our culture as a whole, is built on the theme of contraction: engaging, narrowing, focusing. Contraction is important. There’s no question about that. We need to contract our muscles against resistance to create strength and keep our bones healthy. Narrowing and focusing our attention allows us to understand detail and refine performance. But that principle, on its own, leads to imbalance. Ideas like “no pain, no gain” and “you have to work hard to get ahead” permeate our culture and seep into our idea of how to relate to the world and to our endeavors in it. At best, they are only true to a certain extent. At worst, they lead us to mental and physical attitudes that can, in the long run, cause us harm.
We forget that we can also expand, do less, broaden our perspective, see the big picture.
This is why I like to operate on the principle of expansion. Expansion on its own would be as bad as contraction on its own. You could expand so much that you lose your grounding, or be so averse to effort that you collapse entirely. But adding expansion to your repertoire of thought and movement will allow you to move with less effort and greater efficiency. It will give you easy posture, will reduce both physical and mental stress, and will help you come at challenging situations with greater equanimity and adaptability.
In The Quiet Practice this week, I explored this principle at its simplest, moving from the idea of expansion rather than effort. In Level 1 Yoga classes, my focus was expanding away from gravity to create support. And, in Levels 2&3 Yoga classes, my focus was expanding the fabric of your back as you bend forward even as you are engaging your hips, legs, and abdominals. It was a fun week. I hope you all enjoyed it!
A Practice Challenge: Expand, Not Contract
In your practice challenge from two weeks ago—which you can find at the new Resources Archive page. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I’ve been adding more and more of the tips and practices from the past year of weekly newsletters—in which I asked you to assess and chart your daily/weekly/monthly process, your challenge this week is to assess the ways in which you contract and come up with a plan to expand more.
First, make a list of all the ways in which you narrow, contract, or pull away. Make three columns. In one, list the ways in which you contract physically. Are there things you do that make you tense up, either in specific places in your body, or overall? In the second, list all the ways in which you collapse. This often happens when we get sucked into something, like reading a book, working at the computer, or in a conversation. Third, make a list of ways in which you retreat? Are there particular situations that make you cringe or pull away?
Once your list is done, take a few moments to expand, You might do this lying down in Constructive Rest, but you can just as easily do it seated in a comfortable position.
Then pick an item on your list and imagine what it would be like to do that action, or be in that situation, and expand, rather than contract. Think of this as a rehearsal. You might imagine your neck being free, your head easing away from the top of your spine, and your whole torso expanding. Or you might imagine feeling light and carefree. Run through your rehearsal two or three times. The, when you next find yourself contracting, collapsing, or retreating, remember your mental rehearsal and see how the experience changes for you.
I you try the practice, let me know how it went, either via email or before/after one of my classes this week!