Bringing a beginner's mind with me...
I have struggled for nearly the last two weeks trying to write about my last advanced teacher training ("ATT") weekend. I've wanted to share all the information I learned about knowing your flow and anatomy trains, and I've tried to keep it short (but there was so much good information). I was at a loss of how to approach it, until I taught a yoga class again last night. My studio selects an asana and a theme of the month, and teachers have the responsibility to work both into class. This month's theme is having a beginner's mind and as I taught class night, it struck me that it's with that perspective that I would approach sharing what I learned.
Of all the workshops this last ATT weekend, two of the workshops led by Jane Bahneman – Know Your Flow and Ride the Train – resonated with me the most. I found a beginner's mind in these workshops that helped me to be open to learning new material and now I am really seeking to bring the elements of what I learned into my teaching and personal practice.
In Know Your Flow, Jane emphasized that by achieving proper alignment of the bones, you could then train the proper muscles to engage (from the deepest to the most superficial). Since we have many muscles that we can't touch physically, the only way to activate them is through proper bone alignment. I'm way oversimplifying this, but this was the general idea. And on Friday evening of that weekend, we did a 90 minute alignment-based flow that demonstrated this point and also reinforced that some of the smallest changes we make in our form, can have a significant impact on the end result – it was like doing some of this asana for the first time. There are many examples that I could walk you through, but I will limit them to these two (and for the record, I had heard some of these before, but they didn't sink in until this ATT weekend).
Lunge – before coming up to a full lunge, check that the knee of the front leg aligns over the ankle; place the same thumb as front leg in the hip crease and roll the thigh out (externally rotate it), while drawing the inner thigh towards the midline of the body; draw up through the pelvic floor and draw the lower belly in and up (belly button pulls towards the spine); now that you've made these adjustments sweep arms up alongside the ears.
Warrior II – back foot is parallel to the back edge of the mat, toes just slightly angled in; front foot pointing straight towards the front of the mat, heel perpendicular to the arch of the back foot; bend into the front knee (knee aligned over ankle); draw up through the pelvic floor and draw the lower belly in and up (belly button pulls towards the spine, as the tailbone lengthens towards the floor); feel the hips energetically pushing down towards the floor as you lift the inner arch of the back foot, pressing the outer edge of the foot into the ground.
And in all cases, the breath is extremely important, so always breathing in and out through the nose, feeling the diaphragm fill on the inhale, feeling it collapse as it empties on the exhale. And in general, engaging the pelvic floor and lower belly (mula and uddiyana bandha) help to draw the body into better alignment. Engaging these bandhas and breathing help to tone the deep core muscles, which are not always reached when doing traditional core work (such as abdominal crunches).
In Ride the Train, we learned about the 7 myofascial meridians as discussed in the book Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridan Manual for Movement Therapists by Thomas W. Myers. (After the workshop, I ordered this book and it now sits on my coffee table, since I am seeking to dig deeper into this topic.) My biggest take away here was that when something happens in one part of the body, it causes a vibration that has an effect on other parts of the body along the same line (or train). What does this mean: "pain, tightness, weakness, mal-alignment, and injury in the body are likely set in motion from strain likely occurring in other parts of the body." (Jane Bahneman, Ride the Train handout)
So, that's all well and great for me, but how do I know what connects with what? After some discussion of the general concepts of anatomy trains, we discussed the 7 lines/trains. I won't bore you with the details about all of them. Some things that I would like to "bore" you with though. Did you know that working the muscles and fascia in the bottom of the feet through massage or MFR (myofascial release) can help relax your shoulders and potentially help to alleviate a tension headache? The Superficial Back Line ("SBL") runs from along the back of the body, starting at the tips of the toes on the sole of the foot and travelling all the way over the skull connecting about your eyebrows. So, releasing parts of the fascia anywhere along the SBL can help to release other areas of the SBL. Similar things can be said about all of the lines, take the lateral lines ("LL"), that run from the outer ankle along side the body up to the ear (this includes the iliotibial band or IT band, which tends to be very tight on many of us). Releasing the LL through foam rolling the IT band may help release stress on the knees.
The trickiest part about these anatomy trains is that many areas of the body are part of multiple lines, so a well-rounded program that works to open up all lines can be extremely beneficial. A great example is the knee; it is directly impacted by all lines, except for the Arm Line ("AL"). The AL has an indirect impact though, as the AL includes part of the muscles of the back and shoulder, which are part of both the SBL and the Superficial Front Line. It's all connected.
Having a beginner's mind helped me to be open to learning and feeling these concepts. It enabled me to take a fresh look at each pose and explore it as if it was the first time I did it. It was almost like exploring these very scientific concepts with a child's mine, not judging the information but taking it in, digesting it, and seeing what happened.
When was the last time you had a beginner's mind? When was the last time you allowed yourself the freedom to explore what you were doing with a fresh perspective, a fresh eye and didn't judge the results?