When I first started doing yoga it was in a very stinky gym with a whole wall of mirrors. It was a horse race to get the best view in front of the mirrors so you could see yourself. Two of the very best spots in the front row were always saved for a couple who were both completely blind. They had the best view of themselves and the instructor even though they could not see a thing.
It was very humbling to watch them do yoga and do just fine without checking themselves out or even being able to see what the instructor was doing. They simply listened to his cues and directions and had crazy good skills of proprioception.
Proprioception is the term used to describe the sensory information that contributes to the sense of position of self and movement. Body position is perceived both at the conscious and unconscious levels.
I now think that the couple had an advantage in yoga because they had years of building up their ability to perceive themselves in space without the enormous distractions of mirrors or other people.
I was very self-conscious and down right embarrassed when I began yoga because I felt so clumsy and awkward. I got confused about which was my right and left arm, where I was putting my leg, and what direction my arm was going. I was completely dependent on watching the instructor do the poses and as soon as he stepped off the mat or stopped I was at a complete loss for what to do with my body.
The instructor would occasionally suggest we practice “dark yoga” – yoga with our eyes closed – to have to depend on our ability to see what we were doing from the inside out, not the other way around. It was so hard! I had to really listen and feel, in a very new way, how I was maybe tipping my hips, sinking into my back, or sticking my chin out.
Proprioception happens on an unconscious level, thank goodness, to keep us from walking into chairs and poking a fork in our eye. But it also can and needs to be consciously developed so that we are more aware of how we show up in the world, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Proprioception is strengthened from inside ourselves. It gets confused and “wrong” when we depend on mirrors or attempt to mirror the actions of others.
Balance poses are almost impossible to do while looking at yourself in the mirror or at anyone else. You don’t want to close your eyes, but you have to focus on something that is not going to move, like a spot on the wall or even something in your “mind’s eye”. As soon as you check out your neighbor in the corner of your eye…you will find yourself weaving around. The big key to finding balance is getting very quiet so you can listen and watch from the inside out; making tiny little adjustments to negotiate with gravity. You don’t muscle your way to balance and there is no “accomplishing” balance and calling it done. You are constantly fine tuning and adjusting your body to find your balance.
And so with life, eh?
The next Daily Bread Yoga retreat is all about….BALANCE! Next Saturday, April 5th, 9a.m.-noon at Philo Presbyterian Church, Philo, IL. We’ll practice standing on one leg, finding balance through our bodies, and maybe it will even spill over into our life, who knows. I hope you can come! This will be the last Saturday morning retreat until the fall – so show up! If you have questions, concerns, or plan on coming — email me at email@example.com.
Peace on your very fine heads,