Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Yoga Conference IV — Balance and Experience

Insights Into Balance

I enjoyed the geeky perspective Blake Martin, the neuroscientist/yoga enthusiast brought to his class by breaking down the mathematical equation for balance, sharing the results of controlled studies on balance, and then having people play around a bit to see how these principles could be applied practically inside poses. It is one thing rationally knowing that the lower the point of balance, the steadier the structure. It is another thing to experience it.

Taking his class the night before Rodney Yee/Colleen Saidman co-taught 'understanding sacrum,' was a great segway. When they started talking about using the sacrum as a point of focus it made sense from a physiological standpoint. Shifting focus to this area away from head/neck/chest effectively lowers your point of reference and brings a sense of groundedness to the poses. We weren't isolating the sacrum though, we were flowing through basic sequences and feeling the connectedness shift as relationships shifted within the body. A very fluid feeling. Languorous. Luxurious.

Yee was pushing people to go past the point of balance in Half Moon pose until they fell over. The rationale being that people don't reach the perfect point of balance, they usually stop a bit short. By stopping short they never reach the point of perfect balance. So fall already! I found this instruction one of the more difficult to follow.

In Natasha's class I got some tips for improving crow pose, but I definitely need to improve my arm strength if I am going to hold it longer than 3 or 4 breaths!

Some interesting facts from Blake's class:
- postural reflexes turn off when you are leaning on a support, so doing headstand or handstand against the wall may train strength and alignment, but it doesn't teach balance
- what your feet feel on the mat is more important than a visual cue (people held poses longer if they were blindfolded but were receiving reliable info in their feet vs. if they had unreliable info in their feet but were not wearing blindfolds)
- drishdi/gaze is important in balance... in handstand it is about 5 cm in front of your hand... hands are much less sensitive than feet in reading balance, and eyes-open handstands last longer (even when done by professional acrobats)
- most successful handstands have lower torques at the wrist (get this effect by locking elbows)
- when your head is in a dorsiflexed position (see photo at left) balance is improved
- people often kick up against a wall to get into handstand, this technique doesn't work when the wall isn't there because momentum will carry you past the point of balance (so don't teach yourself how to get into headstand this way!)

The Value of Experience
Taking a class with an experienced teacher gives you feedback you don't get when you are reading a magazine or following along with a DVD. In the end you don't learn about yoga only by reading or listening. You learn by doing, experiencing and feeling; by being present. A teacher can't really do this on your behalf, but they can certainly open the door. Experiencing the same poses in new ways and from different disciplines was extremely valuable. Having access to so many unique teachers in such a condensed period of time was truly inspiring. Mind bending in the best of all senses.

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