Thanks to a comment on Twitter by YogaDork, I discovered and ordered a marvellous book – Yoga at the Wall by Nancy McCaochan…
I’ve just started reading it and I love, love, love it already.
It’s an amazing book in many ways. First, there’s the premise of a book about yoga poses using the wall as a support – the very first that’s ever been written on the topic. This year in my yoga teacher training, I’ve been taught a handful of wall-supported poses, usually with the intent of helping beginners. But never a whole series and never as a practice of itself for all levels of practitioner.
Don’t know if any of you have tried it, but for example, doing trikonasana against the wall shows you exactly where your alignment is and isn’t. Are both your shoulders back? Is your torso directly over your legs or sticking out at an angle, like a banana? Are you rotating your torso enough?
This is the way I’ve been taught to use the wall. But this book takes it way beyond checking your alignment.
And before she even starts talking about asana specifically, Nancy writes about the resistance in our mind and body in a very powerful and simple way.
I wanted to share with you the following snippets from the first chapter, which really clarified information that I already knew about yoga and the mind/body, but I’ve never enunciated it like this!
There’s more going on in each pose, however, than mechanical resistance between paired muscle groups. Muscle tissues contract in response to electrical stimuli from the neurons that enervate them. These are largely under the control of our will. However, atrophied or underdeveloped muscles, unforged neural pathways, a lack of kinaesthetic awareness, bone structure and injury are all conditions that impede the desired muscular response. This kind of resistance is more subtle than muscular resistance and demands a refined sense of how to work. We modify poses when our range of motion is compromised or when we’re not strong enough to do the full asana. We use movement to open joint tissues and to develop kinaesthetic awareness. In all cases, using a steady, directed breath, we create a kind of altered state of consciousness, so that we can bring the mind to bear within the tissues of the body.
It’s here – in the mind – that we come to see how our resistance to dealing with our stuff comes into play in our practice. Our bodies are vast libraries of information. In our DNA, there lives the history of the evolution of our species. In addition, our hips, shoulders, elbow, neck and spine carry the memories that comprise the stories of our individual lives. Each time we experience anything, a biochemical reaction takes place somewhere inside us. If the experience is pleasant, endorphins are released; we feel good. If the experience is not pleasant, we feel sad or angry or frustrated, and corresponding chemicals are released into our blood stream. We feel tired or our stomach gets upset. Our memories are born in this chemical soup, which leaves traces within our cells. Through repetition of particular reactions, we create a palpable psychic residue that becomes part of both our psychological predispositions and our physical structure…
…One of the basic principles on which we human creatures operate is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. Shunting emotions into the body is one mechanism by which many of us avoid the discomfort, or negative feelings. This fundamental psychic resistance is the fodder for any meaningful yoga practice as we work with our bodies to unlock the mysteries of our minds and emotions.
~Yoga at the Wall by Nancy McCaochan
And this, ladies and gentleman, is one of the many reasons I do yoga!