Discoveries in practice don't occur because of something magical a teacher says. They occur because you genuinely engage with your felt experience and listen to what your body is telling you.
I always thought vinyasa yoga was an external practice. One in which you were trying to achieve some physical form of perfection in a pose. I was a little confused. Well, actually, I was very confused. I didn’t realize the real meat of the practice occurs when your attention is internally aligned. Said another way, when your attention is placed on the communications you receive from your body (ie. sensations, feelings, restrictions, and releases). As you become more engrossed in sensation, your body begins to teach you how to move. The shapes you're attempting to make become secondary. This role-reversal allows you to understand your movement and your body from the inside out. When you practice in this way, it becomes less about form and more about the quality of sensation. Some interesting questions may arise as well; most notably, what are you actually capable of?
In essence, I'm talking about the mind-body connection we hear so much about these days. You are using your thoughts, words, and ideas to drop from your thinking mind into your feeling mind. The feeling mind is the one that connects with your direct experience through the use of your senses (in yoga think proprioception and interoception). When I started practicing yoga, my goal was to copy the forms I saw the teacher make. I would do this by listening intently to what my teacher said and attempt to do that perfectly. The words were my guide.
There was a huge benefit to this. I became super curious about how I could make the shape. The problem was, 99% of the time, I was to tight to do it. And if I’m being really honest, I wasn’t even close. So instead of making the shape, I would go as far as was comfortable. I began to map out the places where I was stuck in my body. Each spot became a point of curiosity and interest. How could I possibly get that area to release for me? As a side-effect, I was not only learning a tremendous amount about my body, but I was also never in danger of hurting myself because I was never pushing farther than my body wanted to go.
This caused a shift in my thinking. I realized that my teachers’ words were only going to get me so far. What was required was to become an explorer. I needed to drop the words and have the experience. Over time I realized that there was restriction in pretty much every part of my body. But now, instead of frustration, I realized the truth; this was all valuable information. I would move to one of those restrictions and let my attention drift around it. I’d explore the inner depths and the outer edges. Over time these areas would clarify in my mind's eye and my awareness would expand. Eventually, my field of awareness grew so large that my entire body could be in focus all at once.
This epiphany left me feeling like I was at the end of the road. I was like “oh, ok, I get it. Now I really feel my body. This must be it.” It quickly became apparent, however, that this is where the journey begins. Now you work with this ever-deepening experience of awareness through your whole body. This depth of feeling is truly limitless. As you drop the words and release your effort you allow your body to show you subtler levels of the experience.
You're now learning a new language; your body’s language. When the words drop you are in uncharted territory. If it’s unfamiliar, please be patient. Allow yourself to get bumped out of the experience and back into your thinking mind. Use words from your teachers to get you back on course. Just remember that the words are always pointing you back to your direct experience. Once you are feeling sensation, you can let the words drop and ride the waves of your bodily sensations again. The gold is never going to be in your analytical mind. Thinking about how you feel in the pose is not the end of your journey.
Go deeper and feel more subtly. There is more for you there.
As I reflect on my yoga and movement-practices, I realize the most valuable experiences have not been learning fancy poses or getting stronger or more flexible. Those were fun side-effects sure, but the real value came from understanding my body. With dedicated practice and attention, with the slightest effort, you'll be able to let your awareness pulse throughout your entire body. You can learn to drop into that subtle flow of sensation. It not only keeps you out of those pesky thoughts in your head, but it creates a deep sense of trust in yourself. Your body is no longer this thing that hinders your performance or just gets you from A to B. It becomes an intimate partner. This partner lets you know what it needs if you can learn to listen to it. Not only that but during your yoga practice, you will truly know when to push deeper and when to back-off. All guesswork in your practice is released. You truly find your flow.
Your body can perform for you, it can heal itself, and it can offers suggestions. It does all of this through subtle sensations and feelings. When you begin to befriend your body, you’ll feel the game start to change. It’s like you have a teacher around 24/7. Only this teacher knows you more intimately than you know yourself. In the truest sense of the word, you’ll become intuitive: using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive. Let yourself experience your body.
Drop your concepts and ideas. Return to instinct. This is where the magic will occur; when you let go of what you "know" and open to something new.
So the next time you practice, remember to pause and feel. Drop into the unknown and get curious about what you find there.