Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Form Factor

Y'all know I use (now part of GaiamTV). It's an online yoga platform that I recommend for a wide variety of online yoga classes (of all levels and durations) taught by numerous teachers of numerous schools (though not so much Iyengar). It's one of the ways I motivate myself to engage on days when I'm either very tired or feeling uncreative. (More on My Yoga - with which I am in no way affliliated btw, except as a paying client, next post...)

One of the things I've realized lately (and trust me, it's taken 25 years to decide to stop hitting my head against the wall when it comes to this) is that you don't need to do yoga for 2 hours (or 90 minutes or even 60 minutes) every time you step on your mat. My nature predisposes me to feel that 30 minutes is the practical minimum, at least for myself - but I've always recommended to newbies, who struggle to develop a practice, that the three-pose rule* is where it's at. FWIW, there are those who will tell you that any amount of yoga is a practice.

I'm sure it doesn't surprise you to know that I'm pedantic and goal-driven. I'm a freakin' civil servant, after all. I came by the Iyengar method honestly, while searching for fitness in my teens, because it's utterly akin to my personality: driving, specific, practical and intensely technical. Partly I'm this way because peeps be who they are, and all that. Partly, I'm this way because I've spent my entire life managing clinical anxiety and obsessive compulsiveness and the imposition of order is the way I come to terms with the vast amount of sensory input to which I am excessively sensitive.

Here's the thing, spending 2 hours per session, doing yoga 3 times a week, doesn't work for me right now. (There's an argument to be made that it doesn't work optimally, physically, for lots of people. But let's not dwell on them - this is about me.) Right now, I feel best on every level when I do 30-45 minutes of yoga 5 times a week. That's about half the amount that my old-school, orderly self feels is "doing real yoga". These days I also often feel better when someone else is telling me what to do because it's easy for me to ruminate on my (in)abilities - on my level of asana "consciousness" - when I'm directing myself.

I've been doing the same poses for decades. I've come up against the same physical (to say nothing of mental) sensations and challenges thousands and thousands of times. And nearly every time I've come up against them - last year or two notwithstanding - I've fought them. I've fought my perceived inabilities, my competitive (with myself) strain, my urge for improvement (which never became my joy of refinement). Certainly, I've experienced tremendous pleasure in yoga or, trust me, I wouldn't do it. But when one actions a pose it's always the same: The only barrier one ever encounters is oneself.

Teachers spend a lot of time telling students that, if they want to change themselves, they need to take the journey in the practice. I'm here to tell you, if you want to change your practice (how you live within it, how you benefit from it), you also have to change yourself.

And that's why I'm doing it all differently. My urge for perfection (which isn't abstract perfectionism, btw, it's an actual drive for order in the physical form) is painful. It has actually contributed to my experience of physical pain. Yin yoga recently helped me to take the edge off my form-centred, Iyengar-sensibility. MELT and other forms of myofascial bodywork have reinforced for me - outside of the spectrum of yoga - that it's really not about how it looks while you're doing it but how it feels when you're done.

On that rabbit-holey topic - let me clarify my perspective: The impact of yoga is never about how it looks and always about how it feels (in the context of physically safe asana). That's not to say that beautifully executed poses (in that Yoga Journal fashion) aren't a concurrent aim for many yogis. In fact, for most long-standing practitioners I've come across, I sense it's equally important. Not that anyone talks about this.

I do yoga, in part, because it brings me health, self-awareness and vibrancy. I also do it because it's a way for me to express my physical ability and my perceived beauty in that ability. Is that yoga? No way. Is it egotism? Sort of. Is it harmful? Well, when it gets out of hand it is.

I'm ageing, as are we all, and I'm moving through a physically challenging phase of life at the moment. How long this phase will last is unknown. How it will end is unknown. Arguably the purview of yoga is in age because, while I cannot satisfy my ego through my practice at this moment, I should never have been trying to do so in the first place. Nothing like a period to end a sentence.

At any rate, that's my deep thought for Wednesday. Fellow yogis (or runners or rowers or cross-fitters), what's your take on this? Do you express your ego in your activity? (Think twice before you answer.) And if you're a yoga-doer with a long-standing practice, how has it changed as you've gone from one life phase to the next? Let's talk!

*The three pose rule is just that: Get on your mat and do 3 poses in the style of practice you'd optimally like to accomplish (i.e. active, supported or pose-family focused). If at the end of doing those 3 poses, you're still feeling utterly disinterested, just put that mat away and move on with your day. If, however, you find even a glimmer of engagement having done those first 3 poses, do 3 more. If you're still there after 6 poses, chances are, you're in it for a full practice (however you define that).


  1. The three pose rule is a good reminder. I need to start doing that since my practice is greatly diminished (read: sometimes I do some breathing while I commute) these days.

  2. Ha! Hey - that's pretty good for a working mum with a new baby :-) That adjustment is extreme, huh?

  3. Ha ha! So much you say about perfectionism/ocd/imposing order/technical thinking resonates with me, and brings to mind so many others I've known with chronic pain and/or illness. I can't help but wonder which is the chicken and which is the egg. Are the neurons that make us irritated by crooked labels and unable to stop doing yoga before the 60 minute mark also the ones that generate our chronic pain and inflammation and autoimmune troubles and etc.? Or do our various disorders cause us to be uptight about some kinds of things? Interesting, but it's really tempting to me to blame myself once I start considering those questions. Maybe I'll go chant "correlation is not causation" while I do my asanas. :)

    RE: yoga duration, I am so bad at quiet-mind that it usually takes the 60 minutes for me to get into and out of the really embodied, meditative state I'm shooting for. I'm just starting out, so hopefully I'll get better!

    1. I find your comment fascinating S! I don't know a lot of peeps with chronic pain (at least not who've disclosed it to me) so I can't really weigh in. But it's such a good question. I find myself vacillating between feeling so hard-done by for this hyper-sensitivity (which makes everything SO fucking intense) and amazed that others don't feel it too. And I wonder what the benefits are. I mean, this has to be an evolutionary thing, right? Your mantra is genius by the way - definitely do it!

      Also, the quiet mind can take a very long time to find and lots of peeps do hover at the margins until one day, something very unfussy, almost imperceptible, shows them the way. I will say that the best thing about experience is that it teaches you how to be in the moment. It's just practice. Keep on and you will get there - I'm sure of it.