Friday, March 06, 2009

Feeling Comfortable

Recently I taught a student who was struggling with a pose. As I talked her through the mechanics of setting up for the pose, which includes placing a belt around legs and hips, she kept saying to me, " I can't feel anything. What am I supposed to feel?" Then she would tug on the belt, tightening it some more, and again say to me: "But I'm not feeling anything."


I was teaching the class Supta Boddha Konasana. This is a restorative pose that combines a great opening of the chest, a supported backbend, a hip opener, and a good, deep breath on exhale. You sit down with your legs extended in front of you on the mat. You take a long strap, loop it through the double D links so that you can loosen or tighten it as needed. The belt goes over your head, is placed at the base of your spine. Then you bring the soles of your feet together so that your knees open out to the sides. The belt goes over the thighs and knees, then around the underside of the feet. You lay back on a bolster set up lengthwise to support your back. Finally, you open your arms wide and take a good, long breath out.


I introduced this pose with the goal of letting the students relax. For the first time at this new studio, I had a largeish class. Avery mixed bag of students: some completely new to yoga, some new to me but clearly interested in having a demanding physical workout. And that's not my way of teaching. My goal is for the student to work to her comfort level, feel some momentary sense of mental focus, and leave class feeling a bit better than when she came in. I'm not against a challenging class, but all yoga asanas (the physical poses) should combine the qualities of shtira and sukkham: diligence, effort, commitment along with relaxation, softness. Patanjali even tells the reader of the Yoga Sutras that this combination will allow us to age more gracefully, feel better physically - so for those students who want their yoga to promote a more beautiful body, there's even more reason to ratchet the practice back from work, work, work.


I tried to explain to the student that, because her hips were already very open (she could lower her knees to the ground with no effort, which is pretty rare,) that her sense of the pose would be less intense than someone with tight hips. But she didn't seem to take that in, and kept tightening the strap and repeating, "But I'm not feeling anything.


It took me until the next day to realize that yes, she was feeling something. What she was feeling was comfortable. But because she was looking to feel discomfort, she did not recognize the sensation. She was feeling something - and that something was good - but she did not register the experience because it was outside of her expectation.


I wished that I had thought to say this to her. I hope that she comes back to class so that I can talk with her. I won't say it to her this way, because I'm not sure she would agree and I would rather she learn this for herself. But it gave me a good lesson as a teacher: the harder someone is trying, the more important it is to offer the suggestion of building some sukkham into the shtira.

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