The scientific part of me looks at the human body as a machine that's function is universal. The hamstrings contract when we bend the knee, the deltoids lift the arm at the shoulder joint and the abdominals lengthen when arching the back.
Yet, truly, does each tissue actually function the same? That saying, does each muscle fiber contract with the same amount of force or lengthen to the same degree? In theory, maybe but definitely, not in practice.
In this week's yoga practice, it become very apparent the differences in each muscle group and within each muscle group.
I haven't really noticed many obvious differences in the past. Yes, I have muscle imbalances but my body has found many great ways to compensate. And I really thought I knew where each "sticking point" or cranky muscle was. Well, I was wrong.
In a wonderful sequence of forward bends (Uttanasana) - holding big toes with "peace sign" fingers, then to hands placed under feet position then finally to hands clasped behind back and arms stretched out and lifting behind my back. Nothing beats a forward bend.
What became ever so clear was that my right hamstring was not releasing. Almost as if it was jammed up two-thirds up the back of my leg.
I'm aware of a slight difference between both hamstrings but it was SO obvious with the forward bend sequence. My hamstrings (yours too) are not the same!
Interestingly enough, I had another reminder that not all muscles function the same from one side of the body to the other. Sitting and moving into a twist to the right, my rib cage (obliques and serratus anterior) are my limiting factor. They only allow my body to twist a certain degree; meanwhile, as instructed by the teacher, I add a deeper twist by wrapping my right hand back to my left hip. Try the pose on the other side and BAM, it's no longer my side body stopping the twist, it is the left hand to the right hip (note: I can't even do it!)
Enlightening for me. And with full disclosure, my physical therapist gave me a heads up about some of these cranky spots!
Enlightening for me as a teacher. Anatomy is anatomy but truly in motion nothing works exactly the same.
Working through the differences my body hands me,
As another year rolls around, my birthday wish was fairly simple. It's not a significant birthday this year nor do I need much.
But what was a must-do on my birthday was a yoga class.
I swung my yoga bag on my back and jumped on my bike, pedaling down to my local studio. I knew I had to get out of the house for this birthday wish to come true. I quietly paid and walked into the hot room. My option was a hot class, which is not always my number one choice but nonetheless, it was yoga.
When prompted to place an intention for the class, I silently chose to focus on me and only me. This is my one day of the year (and even moreso since becoming a parent!)
I lucked out for this "me" practice as the studio space included mirrors. I intently watched each pose (as the pose allowed) and focused on a well-positioned body. Listening not only to the teacher's cues, I also zeroed in on my body cues. Honestly, I must have looked like I was figuring out a hard sudoku puzzle. My face reflected back at me with a very concentrated look.
The best part of this birthday wish was a supported savasana. It's like a regular savasana but super sized. Two foam blocks under the hips and head allowed for a glorious torso stretch. I literally and figuratively melted into my body.
How do you focus on yourself? Do you use a mirror in your practice?
What are ways you honour yourself on your birthday?
Are you taking care of yourself?
One year older,
I've been really blessed to practice with an awesome teacher at Lotus Soul Gym. She has been in tune to our group's needs, even asking what we want from our practice at each class. And without fail, she always asks the class to make a silent intention for the practice.
My usual internal response to her direction is one word. Peace, rest, energy, love - something like that. But this week my intention was "to feel my practice". That being, physically engage with the body during each pose.
Now, you may think, come on Lisa, isn't that yoga through and through.
But honestly, how often do we just go through the motions and neglect being present in each distinct movement we do in yoga?
Lots - I bet.
So my goal was to stay focused on what muscle, joint, etc. were being utilized during each asana. In a sense being mindful in my practice.
A recent article on mindfulness, which my yoga intention ellicted, discusses how the physical body aids in noticing and regulating the wandering mind.
Since our teacher initiated a practice that fit our need(s), she provided a sequence of asanas that possibly was the most difficult one of all (i.e., hitting those tough spots that we knew needed work!)
Pigeon pose hit up the external hip rotators and my back...
Warrior III hit my legs hard...
And well plank, hit my core strength on multiple occasions as we practiced plank (and multiple variations) many times!
I had to stay extremely focused on my body and in the moment or I was lost. Especially with Warrior III...where I almost fell over!
I love the challenge that yoga provides both physically and mentally! I learn so much about myself and hope one day to provide this great favour to others as a teacher.
And on a final note, this week's practice makes me think of this song...
Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.