I had the pleasure of meeting Alexandria Crow the other day and learning about her perspective on yoga. It was fantastic.
She’s an ex-gymnast and a push-the-envelope kind of person. She has intimate knowledge of what our bodies are capable of, and what they aren’t.
She knows better than most because she’s suffered. She went too far. You’d think that would be bad news. But it isn’t.
For that’s how the best of the best learn, and we mere mortals must learn from their pain.
Ms. Crow is like a yoga test-pilot. She took her body to places it shouldn’t go.
She’s learned about what’s out there, the demons who live beyond the envelope. She lived through the experience, and she’s willing to teach us about it. We should listen.
As soon as I figured that out, I was riveted. She wasn’t just another bendy-body beauty, but someone who could give me a deeper insight into my yoga, and yoga in general.
I hadn’t planned on being so captivated. I thought it would be a nice way to learn some sequencing tips from a seasoned professional. The fact that she appeared to be twenty-something gave me doubts, but by the end of the session I realized she’d blown my mind. And not just with respect to sequencing.
For some years I’ve been learning from many different experts, people who have taught, and thought, long and hard about yoga. I’ve studied a bit of yoga history and about some of the great players in the field.
I’ve only passing interest in the current fads in today’s marketplace. Mostly because they’re trendy and about establishing brand. As a business person I can pick up and understand those aspects quickly.
No, the big insight came from combining what I learned from and about Ms Crow, with what I’ve learned from other great yogis I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.
Ginny Nadler has taught me that the hips and deeper are the true center of any pose. Some independent practitioners and a bit of anthropology agree with her. Peter Starios taught me that even the innocence of balasana (child’s pose) could be the basis for a rock solid regime. Yes, he taught me to sweat in child’s pose. Reading Judith Lasater has taught me that deep and gentle and listening to your body is far more profitable than any standard set of pictures.
Yes there have been others, each of whom has their own particular “angle” on yoga. But each and everyone had something else: they had broken free of the tyranny of perfect posture.
Ms. Crow calls them fancy poses. BKS Iyengar made them famous in his book. Only a professional contortionist can do all of them well. But I don’t. I can’t. I own an old, stiff, anti-athletic body.
But what Sterios, Nadler, Crow and Lasater have done is deconstruct yoga down to its most essential elements – body positions. And where those body parts should go is indicated by looking at your own body, inside your own body. Not at someone else’s picture. Not even the person next to you or at the front of the room.
We don’t have to strive for fancy pose number 9. We do have to strive to put our hips, feet, and shoulders in the right place.
What makes any place right? It’s all up to you. Are you practicing for flexibility? Balance? Strength? Endurance? Coordination? Or something else? Then that defines where your body goes, how you get there, how long you linger and how hard you push.
Are you warming up for intense forward folds? Then back off on the updogs! Need some spinal twists? Don’t force yourself with external pressures like your arms, legs or ropes. Let your twist come from inside yourself. You won’t twist as far, but it’s a better workout, and you’re far less likely to hurt yourself.
Don’t hurt yourself! It’s fine to feel discomfort that goes away within a day. But pain lingers and annoys and reduces your quality of life.
I’m a firm believer in this part of the Marine creed: “pain is weakness leaving the body.” For us civilians, it should read that “discomfort is weakness leaving the body.”
What all these insightful teachers are creating is a new yoga. Each has taken their bodies to beyond its normal limit, and come back using the power of yoga.
Now they’re teaching us a new way, a more rational, even scientific approach to yoga. It’s not a trend, yet. It will never be a fad because it’s too deep. Right now its leaders are smart, courageous, and working hard.
The results are well worth the effort. I’m convinced that I’ve avoided hip and knee surgeries that my friends have already had. My busted shoulder healed faster and better because of yoga. And I’m certainly a more relaxed person than I would be otherwise.
Yoga means many things. For me, it’s about harmony. For Ms. Crow it boiled down to attention. For our proto-indo european ancestors, it meant “to join.”.
My conclusion from all of these maverick yogis deconstructing today’s yoga is this: they are all closer to the true spirit of yoga’s greatest founders, T. Krishnamacharya.
Krishnamacharya didn’t believe in fancy poses or perfect positions or their names. His student BKS made many of those up for business purposes. Krishnamacharya never taught the same way twice, for every student was different. And he was always learning.
For me, that’s harmony, that paying attention. And that’s having the ability to join all the different parts of our bodies and lives together in one big practice.
Disclaimer: I’m an amateur yogi and only study this as a hobby. Any mistakes are my own. Let me know and I’ll fix them as soon as I’m able!