I was thinking yesterday of how experienced rock climbers (note: never actually done it myself) emulate how a yoga practice can be – highly saturated with a sense of mindful engagement and receptivity. The skill and agility applied in rock climbing requires a delightful balance of knowing how to engage regions of the body that require stabilization and strength while, at the same time, being able to remain free, open, and receptive to move through large, complex movements. Is this not what is required of us when moving on the mat?
My interpretation of receptivity on the mat is the evolving process of developing the awareness to engage the body while knowing how to soften at the same time. Some of my common cues as a yoga teacher address the subtle gripping and bracing that occurs in stimulating poses. Often I see people clinching their jaws, flaring the nostrils, or closing off the eyebrows – this is gripping. Frequently, I observe toes grasping and clawing the earth in standing poses. All unnecessary, unaware holding and ultimately poorly directed energy.
The opposite occurs frequently as well with a lack of necessary engagement – I find this readily happens when students settle their attention on the immediate, ‘gross’ objectives of the postures. While one region of the body experiences the primary engagement of the pose, other parts of the body become nonexistent. Good example is seated half twist (bottom leg extended). As the student twists and sends the gaze away from the body, the extended leg ankle becomes limp and unpurposeful – here is the opportunity to open the back lines of that extended leg by feeding through the heel (knee extension) and by working energy through the ankle and across the toes (ankle dorsiflexion and toe abduction). Alas, often not the case and that leg remains a soft noodle.
Taking the idea of unnecessary gripping and bracing further, the ultimate aim of our practice is to create a stable, yet supple vessel for energy to move through and ignite the soul. This flow of energy is greatly facilitated by our breath. Wasteful gripping and hardening can restrict our breathing mechanics and capacity to draw in prana. How often we do hear our yoga neighbors in class snorting and puffing away with their breath when trying reach past the toes in seated forward bends? They would be better served to ease off, realign, reassess, and dissolve the drive towards the ‘challenge’ of the pose. Nurturing intentions begin to flourish when the breath acts as the gauge that monitors quality over quantity. Harmony over desire.
These elements of receptivity are essential for being exploratory and for having the ability to align into your unique physical and energetic practice. Rigidity limits playfulness. Lack of mindful engagement diminishes purpose and benefits. Find that balance, like a rock climber, becoming one with the practice (with the mountain face) versus seeing it as a barrier and being rigid against it. Become fully in tune in how to apply the fire element in certain parts while using the water element to remain receptive, supple, and flowing.