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 yoga 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?
Understanding something can take a few different approaches. I can see how contextualizing would be helpful for the metaphorical parts of our selves. Plus it’s rather difficult to explain 3D movements without something relative to pull from. This all makes a lot of sense. Thank you for your article.
I am currently in Day 2 of my YTU teacher training and have learned an incredible amount about this vessel I have lived in my whole life. I have pretty severe and chronic insomnia and chronic back pain/disc problems, and have found that the styles of yoga I have learned so far have only been stepping stones in getting me to understanding and living a self-healing life. I know I am resilient, but I always seem to find a way to sabotage myself. This work reveals a lot of deep “shit”! and I got very emotional today on several occasions. I have learned to be vulnerable, but I am curious to know more about the philosphies and ways in which this “system” or “style” of yoga addresses the deeper shit in ourselves. How are the spiritual, emotional and mental aspects of our beings addressed and guided in this practice? This parts of me are so integral in working through the damage, trauma and problematic issues that riddle my body with “pain.”
How do you feel strong in a body that feels like it is betraying you day after day?
How does this system help me develop energy stores while simultaneously learning to downregulate my always over-active nervous system?
Food for thought or feedback! Please share your answers with me!
This article is loaded with inspiration and motivation. It felt like this was written just for me and I read it exactly when I needed it. The example of the Context Grid was spot on and provided me with new ideas for creating my own.
Such great ways to bring what we are doing into the world – it’s motivating to understand the reason and application behind a particular move or pose. We also do the same in our karate class and it certainly deepens my training!
Such great reminders to bring daily life into yoga, and yoga into daily life! Makes me feel better about doing all these context grids during training 😉
Very often we, as humans, like to compartmentalize everything and put things, or activities, in nice neat little boxes without thinking how activities might interconnect. We look at yoga as something that is done exclusively in a studio setting and not on the dance floor, or that typing on a keyboard all day is nothing like driving a car (but the two should DOM are similar). Context grids allow us to begin to understand how one type of movement can help another whether it’s within the yoga studio, on the ballroom floor, or in the office. Once I understood how the context grid worked, it put it all into context for me!
This is such a great reminder to bring our yoga practice off our mat and into our daily life. Outside of the classroom we get so caught up in our head that we forget to be present; to simply be mindful of our body in space. It’s so much easier to practice in a yoga room, with a teacher and minimal distractions. I think the real shifts happen when we can start to bleed the practice of mindfulness outside of the classroom. The context grid is a great tool to start this process of integrating the two worlds.
As a student currently in the middle of YTU training, this post really drives the point home as to how we as teachers can help folks that come into our classes better understand how to help themselves feel better.
it is true that we forget after the lesson and that we do not bring back what we have learned in everyday life. Context Grids are very useful for bringing everyday life back into our practice
Very interesting, thanks for sharing. By following my training I find that it is indeed important to make links with the day to day when I teach yoga.
This blog was inspiring! As a Day 2 YTU trainee, this clarified Context Grids and really helped bring context (lol) to why we are doing this type of work. Teachers talk about taking yoga “off the mat” all the time and it usually translate into something like “when you’re on a busy subway, you can take a deep breath” but this blog post and YTU gives practical, tangible ways to actually take the practice into your daily life.
I love how Kate describes the game changers as things that are not glamorous or sexy but really just daily maintenance practices. To build a deeper practice, doesn’t necessarily mean going outward or digging deeper into range of motion or leaning into flexibility.
The improvement of joint mobility, the greater awareness of proprioception all come from building more intimacy, patience, and understanding of yourself in every day life and examining the movements, postures, habits that we ALREADY possess and building from there.
I am someone who can get lost in wanting what others have as far as flexibility or knowledge of the body, and this training is not only teaching me about anatomy, biomechanics, refining my understanding of movement, but it is also quite literally shifting the way I see myself and how I look at the work that I have ahead of me. It is helping me recognize my self worth and where I have blindspots not only physically in my body but also the blind spots in my ways of thinking / how I speak to myself.
I find context grids extremely interesting and worth the time spent but difficult to understand at first. Definitely helpful to have you posting this one, thank you!
I am trying to really connect with the context grid; its the sec and day of my Level 1 training. The examples you’ve given of your students providing private feedback really help me to know the importance of the grid. Thank you for your insight and tips to make me feel more comfortable in embodying this exercise.
Having a dog, I have to walk him usually twice a day, everyday. Now that he’s elderly and walking way more slowly than before, it’s an opportunity for me to pay greater attention to how my feet hit the ground (which parts with what intensity), if one leg’s stride is longer than the other, how the hips move, what’s my posture when I’m waiting next to him as he forever sniffes a fence, etc. Old age invites patience and attention, for which I’m very grateful.
I love this! What’s been most effective for helping stabilize my body and reduce pain while improving mobility has been the mindset switch that movement is restricted to the “workout” part of my day.
Thank you Kate! You wrote down what is happening actually in my yogaclasses, where I try to weave in context grids. As you described I feel that I “need to lighten up”. But in the same moment I see in the faces of my students, that they start to reflect their movements off the yogamat – that is a wonderful moment.
Context grids are so helpful! I do incorporate them now in my teaching
Although I found it hard in the beginning to fill in the Context Grids for the exercises, now I notice that it occurs more naturally. In my Pilates classes I use also now more the why and what of an exercise and it is nice to see when student get it.
I loved all the examples you gave from student feedback! It’s amazing that a simple tool can be used in so many different applications, and it always catches me by surprise how creative our minds can be. I think it’s great to have that feedback not only from the therapy balls but also other props to help us figure out where the blind spots are in our bodies that we otherwise wouldn’t think about.
Thank you Kate for sharing this post. I appreciate your calling attention to these observations as it resonates with me having had a lower back injury that seems to resurface over and over, even with the knowledge of the body and the practice that I do have. Now, I am becoming more and more aware of what I need to bring over from my practice to my daily life.
Yoga has also changed the way I think about movement and even sitting still. Thanks for the great blog!
I agree , we need to build more and more bridges, so students will actually be able to practice their posture and their awareness outside, and be able to heal themselves
I have changed my way of thinking, so when I have to carry my heavy grocery bag to the fifth floor, I now see it as an opportunity to build stronger muscles!
Think you Kate! I could finally understand what and how importain is to understand the meaning of the Grids in order to able to learn. Best wishes , Dentisa
I used to teach a yoga class to older students and it was great to hear that doing yoga every week meant that he could reach a shelve in the kitchen that could not reach before or be able to kneel lower while gardening. I suppose older people are wise and have time to notice what happens to their bodies more.
I really liked your blog post and the little and different ways your students have found to integrate yoga into their days.
Wonderful! Not only is your writing on point and entertaining the message is excellent!! We cannot depend on 60 min massage once a month or a 15 min chiropractic appointment weekly tor even 3-4 bouts of 30 min activity to keep us from postural and receptive use injuries. We need to correct our posture daily and I argue many times a day. Thanks for this!
Great post, I think the impact of even a short home practice is really big. I’ve used the diaphragm/stomach rolling to help with anxiety, it works extremely well, and fast!
I was dealing with some headaches and I had some tune up balls that I had bought some time ago but never used. I was in pain so I started to use them around my neck and upper back while I was sitting in my office chair at work and i was able to relieve my headaches. The habit of keeping the balls behind me while I sit at my desk has stuck and an unintended consequence of having my back against the backrest much of the time is that I am now much more aware of how I am sitting when I am in a chair and now all my sitting has improved.
I too have just finished day one of class for level 1 YTU training. Your words distill the importance of the relevance of, on the mat movement, to everyday life. Personally I have found that when I take one movement shift or idea from a class and apply it to one aspect of my daily life, an aspect that is easy, not loaded with tension or emotion, then lasting change happens more easily. Take for example, going for a walk alone, with playfully curiosity, I check my posture, gait, shoulder position etc and enjoy the walk. Eventually the act of noticing my posture spills over to when I am sitting, standing, at the computer etc. Thanks very much for your post.
Thank-you Kate! Great overview of what we do in yoga class, YTU Class isn’t meant for only that one hour, but is meant to resonate in our bodies and mind throughout our entire day. Breaking it down into the why, how, which and what bring focus, awareness and intention to what we are trying to accomplish. =:0)
Great Share! I am on day 2 of of creating context grids and am just now starting to gather the concept of “fun” everyday actions we can list. We all respond so much quicker when we can relate to a specific move or action. Thanks for solidify the benefit of getting creative with this.
I really enjoyed this article. I absolutely love the context grid in order to understand movements better and why we are doing the pose. I really think this is key in not only helping others do poses to help them but also to motivate them!
Hi Kate, thanks for the article. I am currently learning the contextual mapping while in YTU training and this has helped me see I don’t have to make them so very complicated.
I’ve been confusing about what’s Context’s Grid. The way that you explain and approach to the concept of context grid make me rethink about it. I think I make it too complex which it’s not. The simplest as daily activity is the best way to start to think about the context grid.
Thank you for a great article.
Yoga can be applicable in so many ways. It is interesting to see how the therapy balls can physiologically decrease anxiety. I am curious what the mechanism is that helps decrease anxiety and rid people of anxious minds. Great reminder for people who struggle with these things in their day to day life.
I find that it is essential to educate students on the context of an exercise. I see a lot of them are more engaged and actually perked up when I peppered in this info. Putting yourself in your students’ shoes help creating a mindful and relatable sequence.
I want to thank you for this message. I am currently in class for level 1 YTU, finished day 1 and had a hard time understanding the content grid. Your explanation was spot on and gave me the clarity I needed to bridge the gap. Simple can get the message across, being human in a world of trying to be perfect and precise, letting go is the goal. Understanding why we do what we do is key. Thanks again.
As a yoga devotee and advocate I absolve the functional and practical addition of the context grids. And I see them as an important stepping stool for those that are hesitant to try yoga or those that think that yoga is just about stretching.
Certainly, yoga can be extremely intimidating and limited does many populations -typical those that need it the most.
Context grids can remind the Yoga student that the practice is not done in a vacuum and is a relevant tool to keep them healthy and active throughout their entire life.
The use of grids also impacts the instructor to help them differentiate themselves from other yoga instructors through better understanding of the poses and more intuitive cueing.
I’m looking forward to speaking my clients by adding a deeper layer of thoughtfulness to assist them even more profoundly.
I agree with this 100%! I wish all of my everyday movements were beneficial to my health! 1hr of yoga everyday is not enough to change and heal my tweaky spots! Off the mat movement & awareness is as much as (or more) important!
Kate, I am just starting my Level 1 YTU training and use of the context grids. It’s great that you continue to use them in your classes. It sounds like the grids are helping your clients better understand the benefits of practicing the different Yoga movements, while motivating them to continue regular practice!
This is great message Kate. You have inspired me to go back to my context grids from teacher training and come up with some new examples to use. It is so important to help students see how their practice helps them beyond the mat.
I have been exploring how yoga practice and affect people lives and daily movements off the mat. Nice to hear of some very positive outcome.
I am a very big supporter of daily self care to maintain results.
I am curious what anatomical movement is intended in the how to section by “pull the floor away”?