As a yoga teacher trainer, a number of teacher training students have asked me about the reasons why I teach the way I do. Why the amount of detail--the sheer number of words I use to describe asana to yoga students as they practice? This line of questioning has been an excellent opportunity for me to think through the wherefore of my teaching style.
I want to offer students the opportunity to revel in the little details, the subtle movements of the tiniest bits of the body, and the way the details can draw them into their personal embodied experience as a means to experience the rich, complexity of wisdom we carry around with us, sometimes (most-times) unawares.
Let's look at different philosophical viewpoints:
I think Patanjali and classical yoga tell us over and again that the body is 'in the way' of an experience of our essential nature, in the way of us having intuitive knowledge of the nature of the universe--'in the way' of us knowing why we are the way we are, why things are the way they are, and what the hell to do with this time. We need to distinguish the mind from the body, to transcend the body so the mind can rest, free from the burdens of individualized human embodiment and with a greater (read "better" and "different") experience of Self.
In my understanding, Tantrikas tell us that it is because of and through embodiment that we can even come close to having a lasting connection to the Self, our essential nature. (This may not give us all the answers, but it will sure give us tools to engage with the fullness of human and cosmic experience.) To Tantrikas, the body is the key to unlocking the door to universal wisdom. And further, I think Rajanaka Tantra will tell us that embodiment is not only the key to the door leading to universal wisdom; embodiment is also the door. And it's Universal Wisdom Itself...and it is by drawing the body and mind (and a few other characters) into conversation with each other, that we begin really to hear the wisdom emanating from our corporeal experience.
In short, I believe in the inherent wisdom in and of the body. The body is smart. To remember that wisdom, the mind literally needs to figure out how to embody the tissues, to listen deeply, into and between the cells themselves; to pay attention to the details, to let the details draw us in, and to learn from the Master of Universal Wisdom her/himself: the gift of human embodiment.
As ever, standing on the shoulders of giants, I have come to this realization thanks to the work I have done in the presence of my teachers, this time Patty Townsend. Here, then, is an excerpt from her Embodyoga blog post:
What Does Anatomy Have To Do With Yoga?
"The field of form and relativity, according to Tantra, is nothing more or
less than [a] vast sea of creative intelligence manifesting into nature, under
its own motivation, through itself and its elements — earth, water, fire, air,
and space; one seamless undulating sea of undifferentiated and differentiated
awareness, vibrating at varying densities, with changing, rising, and falling
characteristics and traits, giving rise to a nearly unimaginable variety of
Might this be so? If this idea resonates with your intuition continue to
If at every level of our being, including all the densest layers of our
structure, we are aware and intelligent-vibrating-energy why don't we notice
And also, what would it be like if we did notice this? And even more
interestingly how can we do it?
Great teachers from many traditions have told us that the reason we don't notice
the overwhelming reality of life is that we are constantly being distracted by
the functioning of our individual mind and our egoic-self-involvment. In other
words – we are not paying attention! We are usually just preoccupied with
This is where the study of embodied anatomy™ comes in. Since the human
body-mind is such a perfect manifestation of creative intelligence – all we have
to do is attend to it. We embrace our bodies as the objects of meditation. We
inquire – with keen attention and refined, inwardly directed senses – into our
structure. Clear and persistent inquiry always reveals insight into the
qualities and the functions of the structures, and the intelligence that is
their very nature."