Posts by: Chris Duling
What Does it Mean to “Be Present” During Your Practice?
I’ve had a number of breakthroughs thus far during my time in the Advanced Studies program. Among the most fundamental is learning what a difference focus makes in my practice. Not just taking a physical pose, or asana, but actually thinking about what my body is doing in the pose. Having a little conversation with all the various muscle groups involved in a particular pose – making sure the proper ones are engaging and the proper ones relaxing – has changed the relationship I have with my body. We used to speak in strained whispers but now we have an active dialogue. All this has come from being present and focused while on my mat.
I read an article recently that talked about how the brain behaves when you repeat activities. When you do something over and over, the brain tends to use neural pathways in the same area each time. And if you’ve done something many times, you can do it without giving much focus to the activity. That allows you to multitask. Like how you can walk and talk on the phone at the same time. At one point in your life, you needed to apply tremendous focus in order to walk. Then after a while, you stopped focusing on it. Since then, you’ve taken millions of steps. And if you’ve done something over a million times, wouldn’t you think you’d be an expert at it? Wrong. We trip, stumble, and fall all the time. Why aren’t we all flawless walking experts at this point? Because when you don’t focus on an activity, you will never do it as well as you can do it and you will not improve.
But when you focus on what we are doing, you get better each time. The brain PHYSICALLY changes the neural pathways that control the activity. This is how “muscle memories” are built. So when your instructor tells you to “be present,” that’s what they mean. By being present you engage the brain. And when you engage the brain, you improve not only your practice at the moment, but your future practice as well.
Part-Time Yogi No More
I’m a part-time yogi. At least that’s how I would have described myself before starting the 200 hour Advanced Studies course at Boundless. I’ve been practicing for a few years now, and most of that time I’ve been able to carve out an hour or two for my practice each week. But recently I made the decision to become a teacher, and I figure if people are going to pay good money for my instruction, then I better know what the hell I am talking about. So it’s time to give myself a promotion. I’m becoming a full-time yogi; committing myself to practice at least five times a week. And I’m going to tell you all about it. Here we go.
Boundless’s mission statement is: “Fostering Transformation.” In keeping with that mission, I will be posting a series of blogs about my experiences in the Advanced Studies Program, with a focus on the transformations that occur in my body and mind as I progress through the program over the next ten months.
The standard program consists of one big weekend of training a month, and after our first one I knew I had a long way to go. You would think after practicing at least a couple hundred times in my life thus far, I would have a good hang on some basic poses. And I mean really basic, like sitting and standing. Nope. Not even close.
After holding each pose for several minutes, my body started whispering signals of pain and discomfort where I was not in alignment. I guess I just never listened that closely before. I had several revelations during class, like what it means to tuck your tailbone. It amazes me how many times I have heard that queue and never really understood what it means. I am beginning to grasp just how far I have to go.
So apparently I have some work to do. That’s good. That’s what I signed up for. I just hope it never gets easy. What fun would that be?
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