When we develop mindfulness practices and allot chunks of our days to them, we are quite careful about what they entail. In yoga practice, we move with grace and alertness toward the precise placement of our limbs. We sit properly for meditation with alignment to support the spine. We allow sensation to teach us strength and connectedness with our full bodies and then ….
Off the Mat and Into the World
The hallway beckons with fellow students, belongings and the first steps back to our day. Here is where we almost instantaneously fall away from form. Postural habits come rocketing back into the body with a stealth that eludes our consciousness so that we drop more weight into one hip with a turned out foot, we round forward to lean into the conversation and gesture with arms and hands. Absolutely NONE of this is wrong – it is simply human and yet, worth investigating.
We are busy people. We like to stay healthy and active. We aim to follow doctor’s advice to live well and long. So we schedule time to cultivate strong, fluid bodies. Fabulous. The problem arises when the box is checked on the calendar and we often return to common postural positions that make our physical bodies less effective and that affects everything from function to mood, to chronic pain to productivity to OTC medications. What if the practices we schedule, love and feel results from could bleed into the rest of our movement, making the whole world a potential playground for awareness of form, function and breath?
If we, as teachers, share the benefits of the movements we accomplish on the mat with our students as it relates to everyday actions, students can develop a brand new understanding of when and where they can incorporate smart execution of activities to support all that they seek on the mat or reformer or PT table.
In my discussions with physical therapists, chiropractors and neuromuscular massage therapists, there is a collective gulf between hands-on treatment and recurrence of the same exact issue shortly thereafter. Clients return to their busy worlds with a body that feels better so homework and posture changes are overlooked. But with the same positions that created the dysfunction, clients return to professionals when the same issues resurface. SO – how do we bridge this gulf? Daily maintenance practices! I know it isn’t glamorous or sexy but these are the game changers – sustained attention on functional form and a healthy curiosity of how to move better in the day-to-day activities that make up our individual worlds. We must customize these practices to the client and educate them on why they can create lasting changes.
This has become a major effort in my teaching and another layer of personal education that I believe impacts students when they are far outside of a yoga studio or workshop. Contextualizing your instruction to the world that our students actually live in – not only the surface of their mat or a cave in the Himalayas or a retreat center in the hills of western MA. Not removed from the dishes, the computer, the car seat, the nightly bedtime story, the jerky boss who stresses you out every day. But among those realities is where we must make lasting change for people to feel and live better.
Context grids are a format to approach the movements and sequences we teach with a series of questions – the why, how, which and what. They are a foundational exercise in our Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 Teacher Training.
These questions give clarity to teaching and allow for customization of the practice to strengthen the all-important thread from the mat to being a moving human being in the world.
I remember when I first started to utilize the concept of the context grid and it felt very forced and clumsy. I focused on coming up with the perfect example of an action from class that would directly impact each student no matter who they were. There was also an implied judgment in my delivery – I felt like my message was, “good job getting to yoga but now let me tell how you’re doing everything else wrong.” Not my goal, and surely not a class I would want to attend regularly!
The approach needed work and I needed to lighten up – context grids can be fun and funny. Humans love to laugh at themselves. It can build community and remind us that under all of our surface differences, we’re all quite a lot alike. So I got a bit goofier. I let my own experience and silly puns take more of a center stage. I’ll admit, not every pun got the laughs I thought it deserved but students became more open about how they move out of class and what may impact their movement – steel rods in spines, ankles that never quite healed, a proclivity for frozen shoulder that creates fear, a constant battle with hypermobility in joints that need stability; all kinds of different but similar encounters with mindful movement struggles and solutions in day-to-day activity.
Out of the World, Onto the Mat
Students started stopping by to share certain comments from class and how it reminded them of something from their lives. One day, we slowed down the actions of cat/cow to isolate articulation of the different parts of the spine and later a student recalled an overwhelming sense of joy and energy after class. She began to articulate her spine before reading her son bedtime stories and was better able to stay alert instead of nodding off during Good Night, Moon.
Another student came home from Prague and reported that certain practices had helped her traverse the cobblestone streets. Every street they encountered was covered in cobblestones and, with the age of the city, many had shifted to make the surfaces very uneven. Rolling out her feet and calves as well as utilizing ankle mobility strategies helped her to travel with more ease and less pain.
Anxiety and depression became fodder for tune up tools rather than unmentionables. Students reported privately that the therapy balls lifted mood, settled a busy mind and helped them relax overall, even in the face of big life changes, illness or injury. A therapist for young adolescents dealing with major issues such as chronic pain, addiction, divorce and other trauma said that using some light rolling during sessions can, at times, allow her young patients to release difficult emotions. Another therapist who sits with her right leg often crossed over her left had never actually experienced released gluteal muscles before practicing buttock fluffing in my class. This new sensation built her awareness of her sitting posture, reeducated her pelvis to be properly aligned and eased her low back.
Each of these are examples I would never have considered and, by inviting context into the classroom, these and more have emerged from my students allowing them an education of their body that can step off the mat with them and improve proprioception and execution of daily living tasks. A practice that stays engaged with lifestyle is one that can teach long after my voice has faded from their minds. We’re all human and looking for ways to feel better in our body. What contexts are in your life that could teach you a thing or two about how you move?