Monday, October 10, 2005

Mourning yoga

I wonder whatever happened to yoga? Thirty years ago the approach to yoga was NOT stretching. It was to go slowly in the direction of a pose until the first tiny resistance was felt, and no further. It is so easy to override that first tiny signal that going very slow, just drifting in a direction really, was the only way to pick up on it. Sensitivity to 'The Signal' was the important thing, not how far you could go.

One was to stop right there and go no further, just hang out with the first tiny non-nocioceptive tug and abdominally breathe, and wait. Hang out with the signal and get to know it, find out as much about it as possible; stretch only applied to the time factor, never the tissue.

Once in awhile the tug went away but usually it didn't, so after a minute or so one moved to the next pose, usually in an opposite direction or a different segment of body.

Each pose was to be attempted no more than 3 times in one day. Usually the second attempt took one quite a bit further than the first, but still the 'Goal' was to find that first tiny tug and go no further. The third one usually took one no further forward than the second, but the third one seemed to "lock in" the increased range gained at the second go, and sort of mark or attentuate one's ability to note The Signal.

NONE of this was forceful. That is against the whole point of yoga, the way I learned it anyway, which is to introduce mind, brain and body to each other, every time as if for the very first time, and let them get to know each other, promote intimate inter/(intra) awareness.

This was not stretching. It was peaceful and soft and yielding and relaxing and accepting and embracing of obstacle, until such time as the obstacle to one's movement plan disappeared/decided to go away all by itself. Literally, one sought out these obstacles to easy slow drift, to hang out with them and get to 'know' them, at sub-nocioceptive threshold. The point was to sensorially amplify even the tiniest obstacle and miss nothing. Wear a mental microscope and get in close.

Just doing that, noting obstacles and observing their changes, led to their eventual and predictable disappearance over a few weeks time and practice. I ended up effortlessly being able to do things I'd never in a million years thought I could do with this body. I loved yoga, practiced every day for two years.

Now I can look back and see that it was a system for self-neuromodulation, for building a more solid relationship among all the different sensorymotor modules of brain/cortex, but back then the only cognition available was to cultivate the right attitude.

At that point, I felt I'd gone as far as I wanted to, my mind had a good system built for tuning into whatever my body was saying kinesthetically, and I was done with actually putting in the time to practice yoga. I can just 'go there' now, anytime, and I'm still pretty flexible physically as well 30 years later. I still hang out with the obstacles, only they are the ones in other peoples' bodies these days, less frequently the ones in my own.

This is a longwinded way of saying that yoga shouldn't be synonymous with stretching. That is absolutely backwards. It should be synonymous with kinesthetic sensitization instead. The point of it has been lost under a tsunami of stretching; I hate what yoga seems to have turned into, and all the injuries it causes. I treat my share of yoga teachers/students, unfortunately. I try, I really try to get them to understand that yoga is all about taking forever, being lazy, not trying.. just being. Just being sensitive to one's own human antigravity suit for awhile. Just the way it is. Not trying to change it at all. (The lazy part is, it will change all by itself. No effort is required except to show up for a half hour or hour of exploring and hanging out.)

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"If the cell body of a motor neuron were the size of a tennis ball, its dendrites would fill a room and its axon would extend, like a 0.5-in. garden hose, nearly half a mile." (Jack Nolte, neuroanatomist)

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