This post is part of a series about my experience at the SF Yoga Journal Conference in January 2014.
Rodney Yee holds a special place in my yoga heart. When I barely knew anything about yoga, I remember watching his yoga videos and feeding my practice with his signature style – metaphorical, yet eloquent language, and precision of subtleties moving into and out of the poses. Needless to say, I was pretty excited to take a full day of yoga with him.
Rodney and Colleen spared no time leading the class into a relaxed state. During the guided meditation, Colleen said something so beautiful: “As you release the stories in your mind, your body starts to relax. And when you relax your body, your stories relax.” This stood out to me because I believe the body is the missing link in therapy and healing our emotional wounds.
Shortly after, Rodney shared Thich Nhat Hanh’s purpose of a retreat: a break in routine to become quiet, restore your energy, and heal before going back to your day-to-day living. When we notice our agitation and tension growing, it’s time to retreat and restore so that we will have more energy for the positive things in life. This is exactly what both Colleen and Rodney were trying to teach the class – techniques to unplug and indicators for when you need a break.
And what’s a retreat without techniques to quiet the mind? Well, this workshop was not shy of these! For one, Rodney taught the class a breathing mantra, “so-hum”, that you recite to yourself to express the sound of inhaling and exhaling. It’s practiced like this: you say, “so,” when you inhale, and when you exhale, you say, “hum.” This technique helped the class slow down and become more aware of our breathing.
Not only were we taught to let the breath control the mind, but Rodney also discussed the importance of the drishti (visual focal point) of the pose. Rodney said, “If the eyes are moving, the brain is moving.” It’s important to develop the drishti similar to a “gaze” – a nonchalant and relax visual focus – as opposed to a “stare” – an intense, gripping feeling that would strain your eyes if you held it too long. Linking the drishti to transitions, Rodney demonstrated how to move the drishti by keeping your head and neck aligned with your spine, moving naturally with the transition – instead of the common tendency to look where you’re heading before you actually start to move there.
A lot of what Rodney and Colleen shared in class was about being in tune with the reality of your body instead of your own perception of it; with the feeling of the pose you’re in, instead of your mental picture of what the pose is supposed to look like.
The topic of alignment came up and how you know when you are in the pose. Colleen shared “you are in alignment when you feel so balanced that you don’t know who you are.” What is the hardest pose for balance? Savasana — corpse pose. Simply existing quietly, unmoving, is very difficult for a lot of people – it’s easy to get caught up in your thoughts, and to focus on the “goal” of relaxing. When you have a goal or preconceived idea of balance and relaxation, it takes away from the experience.
Rodney said it is more about acceptance. Acceptance comes from the “foundation of emptiness of [a] personal [desire] for reality to be a certain way.” In other words, to accept things as they are, release your desire for things to be different, and decline to attempt to change things. He added that when you get to this point, you can serve selflessly – serve yourself, serve others, serve the current moment.
It was very humbling to hear Rodney admit that like me, he too battles with the “no pain, no gain,” mentality. Throughout the day, he used his own life lessons of “learning to take the easy road” to lighten up the tone of the class. In our fast-paced modern world, it’s easy to get caught up in reaching the destinations quickly (each individual pose). Rodney and Colleen’s advice is to be mindful and present so that you’re just as aware of the flow and movements between poses as you are of the pose itself. Taking the time to enjoy the entirety of your practice, not just the bullet points, will help you to get in tune with yourself that much more easily.