I remember a trip to the Cotswolds. It must be over thirty years ago. I was on a solo visit to Oxford and was scheduled to enjoy a day’s excursion to the green rolling hills with an unassuming tour company called Spires and Shires. We might have visited Chipping Camden in the morning and perhaps were on the way to Bibury. It doesn’t matter. What I remember is that we stopped to visit a tiny chapel. We were a small group, maybe ten altogether and that’s counting Ceri, our guide from Spires and Shires. Everyone’s attention was directed toward the altar but Ceri and I were standing at the back of the group and unable to see. So we turned to explore what was behind us. We found two broken cherubs resting on a thick stone windowsill. The mid-afternoon sunlight, made soft and languid by centuries of dust, filtered through the diamond shaped panes of glass and fell on the sleeping angels like a warm blanket. It was a serendipitous moment of peace and beauty impossible to forget even decades later.
What does a trip to the Cotswolds have to do with leading a yoga class? When I’m guiding a group of students through a series of postures I’m a little like Ceri from Spires and Shires. I can see where we are and I know where we’re headed. I keep us on the intended path but what you choose to look at – how you choose to explore our yoga path – is up to you.
To encourage your exploration I offer options. Lots and lots of options which, I’m certain, might be annoying to anyone who arrives at our Monday, Wednesday and Friday online yoga practices yearning to be told exactly what to do and how to do it.
The thing is, I stopped being that yoga teacher long ago.
When I offer choices, I’m really offering autonomy. We move along our intended path…triangle…warrior I…extended side stretch…but how you follow that path is your choice because it’s your practice. Do you use a blocks? Do you raise your arms or keep them by your side? Do you rest your fingers on the back of a chair? Do you answer your body’s call to work at your own pace and to a depth that is appropriate for you in that moment and in that pose?
The invitational language I use, the choice making I offer, turns our practice together into a present-moment experience as our bodies move from form to form. Those of us trained in trauma-informed yoga recognize these ideas as the lens from which a trauma-informed practice flows. But shouldn’t all practices be viewed through this lens? How else can we learn to the listen for the story our body wants to tell?
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