Learning to be Human

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Learning to be Human

By: Lynda McCullough

The other day I attended a new yoga class. Though I entered the studio with ten minutes to spare, the entire floor was covered with bodies. For a gentle yoga class? In my experience the gentle classes usually provide plenty of room to find a private space.

Half inclined to leave, I squeezed in up front, uncomfortably close to strangers. Yet as class began, I felt myself settle in and release a layer of tension as the teacher voiced yogic sentiments of relaxing, letting go, honoring and connecting with our higher selves. I was home.

For me, gentle yoga is the bomb. A slower practice takes me deep into my body and releases age-old holding in my tissues. The most transformative class I have ever attended was a “foundations” class with teacher Wendy Bramlett in Boulder, Colorado. While I regularly attended her intermediate class, it was in the beginner class where I experienced profound awakening in my body and spirit.

Wendy guided us ever deeper within, teaching us that the body is wise and to be listened to rather than pushed and pulled by mind and will. In her studio I found myself so present in each moment that I began to hear my blood pulse and muscles tingle. At times I found myself in a familiar pose, surprised to arrive there through an entirely new set of movements with different quality of awareness in body and mind. In this new orientation to the pose, I expanded from within and reached out into space. I felt the wisdom in my skeleton’s alignment and my muscles’ cooperation, enjoyed sensations of aliveness, ultimately experiencing a sense of freedom and joy. In Wendy’s classes, my body told me the most natural and effective way to be.

The tensions in my back, hips, and legs dissolved, and when I lay in savasana at the end of class, my whole body pulsed with life energy. Several times I realized I was receiving my first true education, one that drew forth my wisdom and taught me what it means to be a human and what it is like to experience integration of mind body and spirit and the wisdom such a state engenders. When I arose from my mat, the world looked different and I met people with an open heart, fully present to the other students and to those I met throughout the day. I felt a sense of softness and receptivity, sometimes of wild joy.

A runner, biker, and hiker, I want my yoga to be gentle, a counterbalance to my outdoor exertion. As an acutely sensitive being who tenses her muscles in maneuvering through the social world, I need yoga to interact with the world from a grounded and open stance, and I need it for deeper unwinding at home. While I do sometimes like a vigorous vinyasa class, some such classes are too much for me, drawing me away from the sense of integration and into pushing myself around to achieve some intensity of speed or complexity in my poses. I thrive in a slow practice in which I can stay attuned to my body and breath and the shifts within them.

Something about the inclusivity of yoga also appeals to me. Gentle yoga classes are accessible to a broader range of people and can foster an easier sense of community, of acceptance of various needs for healing, unwinding, or a keen need to tune into one’s body as it is that day. When the “goal” of the class is being present, letting go, turning inside, and moving slowly, anyone can participate, and in many ways we come more easily to what I consider to be the truth of yoga and its messages of unity as well as freedom.

I love a luxurious, exploratory approach to stretching and bending, a mindful way of touching the earth and reaching for the sky, of resting with gravity as I feel my breath expand into greater real estate through my body. As a teacher, I want to share a slow and soft approach to help people release tension and conditioning and tune into themselves in new ways. I see many people respond to such a class in exactly that way: Heck, most people drawn to my class are everyday folks who are not flexible, who do yoga to relax and remain mobile and fluid in the midst of all that closes them down.

Wendy, and my current teacher Tias Little, have both drawn from other movement practices in seeking ways to free the body. Tias has come to emphasize gentle movement by incorporating a bit of Feldenkrais in the beginning of classes. Wendy studied Continuum, a movement practice developed by Emilie Conrad, integrating its fluid gentleness into her teaching. These practices touch into our developmental movement and ways of being and becoming long forgotten in our busy adult lives. They help us reawaken some of our youthful energy, sometimes leading us into areas of play or exploration we missed because of traumas or other challenges.

Yoga reminds us that we are bodies, minds, and spirits. Its practices tap into essential parts of us long neglected in our materialistic and hurried society, parts of us to sleep or ignored as we ply our bodies with foods and chemicals in an effort to soothe feelings of emptiness. It brings us back into touch with our feeling, sensing, wisdom, discernment, and even our instincts so we might bring an integrated awareness into our daily lives. Maybe the packed gentle class I just attended shows others are realizing this benefit.

If you love a strenuous yoga practice, I understand. Such practice is satisfying for those who are strong and flexible. But consider taking a gentle class once in awhile, or slowing it down at home. Delve deep, move slow, and notice. The education may surprise you.




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