Rules, rules, rules.
Our lives are full of them.
But how often do we break them?
What good are they, really?
Why have them at all?
Take breakfast, for example. How often have you heard that it is the most important meal of the day that should never be skipped? For years, I bought into this and forced myself to eat morning meals. But the conclusion was in: I operate much better with little to no food until noon.
I struggled for years with listening to my body telling me this, and instead, followed the masses. I went from eating fruit to seedy whole grain concoctions to protein and veggies. Still, my body had more energy on an empty stomach. Running, cycling, yoga-all these felt better before eating.
What’s right for one can be completely wrong for another. But just how do we know what is right or wrong for ourselves in any given moment? And how do we know that what feels right isn’t actually feeding into behavior or habits that don’t serve us?
The most vital component in true listening involves the practice of being quiet, which for me means meditation. Nothing guided, no dancing, chanting, pranayama necessary, just the simple (but extremely difficult) practice of watching the breath as it arises and passes away. Watching the madness of the mind in this process and then observing the quality of mind as it transforms and settles into a place of spaciousness and objectivity is the only thing that has ever allowed me to truly listen to my heart (and body’s) desire.
The art of listening involves a sense of quiet, a willingness to feel, and a deep sense of honesty and trust.
Asana practice is another great example. You walk into a class and the teacher directs you to put your feet one direction, your hip bones another, and ribcage still another. Something doesn’t feel right. Is it because, in fact, it isn’t right for your particular bone structure or is it because the several years of dance or gymnastics has influenced your proprioception and kinesthetic awareness?
Paul Grilley, Yin yoga extraordinaire, discovered that skeletal structures were not created equally. With many years of extensive research in examining the myriad shapes of hip and shoulder sockets, femur and arm bones, etc., he concluded that it is the unique shape of our bones that determines range of motion and, thus the relative ability to master a pose….or not. What an eye-opening discovery in the world of yoga, especially when some schools dogmatically say otherwise.
You may have watched your yoga teacher contort herself into the most awe-inspiring positions, and you then proceed to frustrate yourself to no end trying to do the same. Perhaps her joints and bone structure allow her to easily master the pose. Students all the time remark at how strong or flexible I am in my practice. Sure, I practice, but I ease their minds every time by telling them, “It’s in my genes. My 86 year old mother never did a yoga class in her life and can still flop over and touch her head to the floor”. Our bones are designed just so.
The art of teaching is about inspiring students to listen, to honor, to trust and empowering them to discover their own inner teacher that has more wisdom than anyone else. In all that quiet listening, there is so much to be discovered.
The late Gabrielle Roth once wrote:
“We are born into bodies that are fluid and free. Yet for most of us, this state of grace is sadly short lived. Judgment, emotional wounds, fear and loss become stored deep inside our muscles and bones, leaving us with shoulders that sag, hips that are locked, arms that can’t reach out, hearts that beat behind a stone wall. When we move our bodies, we shake up firmly rooted systems of thought, old patterns of behavior and emotional responses that just don’t work anymore. Rhythm, breath, music and movement become our tools for seeing, then freeing, the habits that hold us back. When we free the body, the heart begins to open. When the body and heart taste freedom, the mind won’t be far behind. And when we put our psyche into motion it will start to heal itself.”
While she refers to her work with Five Rhythms dance, this sense of listening and feeling, being fluid and organic in our own bodies are all beautiful components of asana as well. Whether in flow or static postures, we can hear what our hearts are telling us moment to moment. It’s just a matter of being quiet and listening.
And don’t forget: Break any rule you want if it intuitively feels right.