Postscript on Perception in Yoga Practice

Whilst walking in mountains and mentally reviewing the last blog on perception, I wondered whether my words had drifted  “up into the clouds”  – that more practical content would be useful.

Definition of “perception”

…the ability to see, hear or become aware of something though the senses…

I do not think that we can suddenly become more “perceptive” if we join a yoga class that follows a sensory approach – that this, in itself,  allows us to hear the “whispers” rather than the “screams” of the sensory nervous system.  Yoga practice takes many forms and time spent with movement and breath is essential for good health.  When walking , I had the good fortune to meet a former Alpine Olympic Gold medal winner who , at almost 80, walks every day whatever the weather. He moves as best he can and he stressed the need and the therapeutic value of “..listening to his body…to  breathe in the air make space for the mind..”  His words, not mine.

Yoga asana are representations of movement and are not in themselves structural models around which we should wrap our bodies.  If we do, then I believe, that we may not make space to listen;  notice;  become more perceptive.

To be more concrete , which I promised, and purely reflecting my own views.  Tree pose (vrksasana) is a standing balance  which represents an element of our walking pattern – namely changing direction.  It is, therefore, helpful for the supporting leg to be clearly planted and supportive in a way that enhances mobility rather than a braced posture in which stiffness is mapped.  Thus if the knee is locked to ensure that the pose looks “solid”, the sense of mobility, fluidity is lost and the practice is marked by a disconnect between body and mind.  Knees do not like to be locked in this way, so if we do not listen to the whispers, those knees will eventually scream.

The knee may be locked because the supporting footprint is not clearly planted – thus the knee is being asked to support because it is being told to, not because it wants to.  Anxiety about balance poses is quite natural and shoulders may be recruited to support the balancing structure.  If we don’t notice this in tree pose we may not notice it when we walk, it may become an unhelpful habitual feature of ambulation.  If we spend lots of time, planting the foot, perhaps through sprinters (of course) , we may be able to move into the balance with greater perception.  We may then feel that as we take the weight onto one leg, the abdominals can add support and the shoulders can relax.

Essentially, when our practice is body/mind centred, we do not strive to hold ourselves up, we use gravity to drop our weight down through the supporting leg bones.  In this way, we recall Vanda Saravelli’s teaching – that when the lower body , from the waist , is drawn down the upper body can be free.  Thus the shoulders may not jump towards a habitual “brace”- consequently, the upper body is free to breath – the essence of all our yoga practice.

In sprinters, if we are unable to notice that the chin lifts as we lift the spine, then we do not notice that we are asking the stong extensor muscles of the neck to help, to compensate for the our being unable to make a good footprint to support the movement.  The neck doesn’t want to work – we are telling it to do so.

Damasio writes that “…Emotions play out in the theater of the body.  Feelings play out in the theater of the mind….”  Looking for Spinoza p.28

Tightening muscles because you have been doing it for  long time becomes part of us.  We stiffen in reponse to anxiety and stress.  It is, therefore, useful to differentiate tension from effort.  Some movement requires effort but what do we bring to a movement that is not needed?  It is this introspective process of teaching and practicing yoga that Pete Blackaby (intelligent Yoga) has been teaching for years and it has taken me years to truly “catch on”, to become more perceptive in my practice.  More practice is required, of course…as is more patience.

Speaking of Patience.  The more perceptive of you may have noticed that at the end of the last blog I wrote that “Rhythmic Breathing” would be the subject of the next.

As it will be.

I look forward to seeing some of you in class.





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