by Sadie Chanlett-Avery
As the In-House Yogi at LUNA & CLIF Bar, Sadie Chanlett-Avery leads the yoga, kettlebell, and perinatal training in the employee gym. Sadie blogs at Active Body Still Mind and in 2013, she was chosen as an Athleta Sponsored Athlete.
As I enter my tenth year of teaching, I’m returning to the simplexity of the basics. From Clif Bar’s rambunctious “Broga” to the nervous reverence at Namaste’s Yoga 101, I’ve been leading several introductory classes.
It always helps to remind the students just how ridiculous yoga is. The teacher parades you through a series of bizarre positions and suggests that you relax. Huh?
As the body awkwardly contorts into a pose, the ego melts. The mind starts spinning, “Holy Cow, I’m the most imbalanced, inflexible clunkfest ever.” I’m doing it all wrong. Novice students often ask : Should I do triangle like this? Is this the right way to do Warrior II? Am I breathing wrong? (That last one is my personal favorite.)
The “right vs. wrong” tangles us in duality and morality. Why would the brilliant design of the human body evolve to move “wrong?”
Yoga poses invite us beyond limited pedestrian propriety. In class we quickly already surpass the “normal” or socially “correct.” So I consider questions of safety and patterns instead. When instructing I wonder:
Are we safe?
Avoiding physical injury is as important as ensuring emotional safety. If we don’t feel stability in our skeleton’s or psyche, we will resist change from our current norms. Once we feel secure,
Can we perceive our patterns?
Yoga reveals our tight shoulders, shallow breathing, and redundant mental scripts. As we sense and understand our habits,
Can we create more efficient patterns?
Learning a basic standing pose, we change how our femur bones rest in the hip sockets, how our spine braces, and how we react to stress.
Will the new pattern be repeated?
After enough practice, we build a new physical and mental reality for ourselves.
Instead of a stark dogma of achievement, the principles of yoga are a path. Unfortunately, yogic alignment may appear foreign and doctrinaire to novices. After exploring finer alignment details even seasoned practitioners have commented that they have been doing a pose “all wrong” for years. We can uncover something new without deeming ourselves a failure. A set of rigid rules snarls our actions.
A focus on safety allows for individual gradation and suspends responsibility between teacher and student. If we are secure enough to place our left foot in front of the right than we take the next step. If we keep moving forward, yoga will open and organize us in strange and delightful ways.