” In every posture, the body, the mind, action and motion, as well as each breath of the physical, physiological, mental, and intellectual sheaths, have to be evenly balanced.”
-B.K.S. Iyengar from Yoga Wisdom and Practice
I came across an article in this morning’s sports section of the newspaper that highlighted the Tampa Bay Buc’s quarterback Jameis Winston. He is likely the hardest working player in Tampa Bay, up at 5:30 every morning in order to arrive early for practice, with a daily routine that schedules and accounts for almost every minute until day’s end at 9 p.m.. While certainly an admirable work ethic, that’s not exactly what caught my attention.
Winston believes that “progress is made in the little things, the tiny details.” He tracks all aspects of his practice carefully so at the end of each day he can trace whether it was successful, measured by his improvement in processing necessary information. He scrutinizes daily films evaluating areas of progress. He reminds himself that there are 31 other quarterbacks with similar goals and work ethics and asks himself daily what he is doing to make himself better than those other 31.
The main way he ensures that he is, is by resisting the urge to look ahead to the future imagining big games, playoffs or Super Bowl rings. Instead he stays focused on “what’s now.” The current drill, film session, healthy meal, current weight workout etc.. His coach helps reinforce this by instilling the mantra “patience.” As a companion mantra, he also emphasizes “understanding the situation that we’re working with in any moment, what the practice is that particular day and how he has to subtly adjust his game accordingly.” Sounds like yoga to me!
The practice of yoga, most readily accessible in the asanas or poses, is one of being present and accepting of “what is” in the moment. Our body/mind shifts constantly, always subtly and sometimes more dramatically and we must develop the maturity to tolerate the changes. As we become more dedicated and advanced practitioners, our powers of observation and awareness must keep pace. It’s not enough to simply progress to more challenging or impressive poses much like it’s not as helpful for the football players to simply practice play after play, they have to know where they are in the game. We as yogis need to know where we are in our “game”; the game of inhabiting ourselves, fully supported, truly aligned, moving with intelligence and integrity. We have to be honest that perhaps the lumbar flexibility of our present may or may not allow for all the backbending poses of our yesterday but if we are discerning, creative and adaptive in attitude and practice we can always discover alternatives. When we develop the awareness to notice the placement of our right big toe relative to the left, the effects of our habit of engagement for one shoulder blade compared to the other or how by moving the skin of the hand from the outside edges inward creates a more evenly balanced dog pose, we are on our way to subtle yet deeply profound change. Our ability and tenacity to integrate the necessary adjustments is what leads to transformation. That requires patience and long, uninterrupted, unceasing practice.
Winston’s coach allows that the player seems to be getting better at this business of patience, characterizing it as “slow and steady progress.” Winston himself says things are slowing down for him, in a good way. “Patience is a way of controlling everything. To be an effective game manager I always need to be calm, cool and collected. Everything can be going fast for others but it has to be slowed down for me. I have to be the person that brings everybody together and puts us on ‘chill mode.'”
This wisdom isn’t the byproduct of age, he’s 23. It comes with putting in the work, the intelligence of that work and the unceasing practice and patience sustained over long periods of time.
B.K.S. Iyengar reminds us that there is a great difference between just practicing and sadhana. He says, “Sadhana is the way of accomplishing something. That something is by correct execution, the achievement of the real. What is real must be true and so lead us toward purity and emancipation. This is yoga sadhana and not the mechanical repetition merely of yoga practice. The end of yoga sadhana is wisdom. Here he is translating yoga sadhana as ‘the yoga pilgrimage’ as it is a journey that leads somewhere, not the mere treadmill of thoughtless practice. ” Hmm… words to practice by. Namaste
If the three rules of real estate are” location, location, location”, the three rules of health should be posture, posture, posture! It’s estimated that 80% of the U.S. population will experience back pain at some point in their life. Understanding proper alignment and practicing it is crucial if you don’t want that eventuality. Additional side effects of poor posture and alignment include:
Hopefully that list is unappealing enough to get your attention and prompt an immediate self assessment. Stop – right now. Are you slouching your chair with your shoulders rounded and head pushed forward? Are you standing with a similar silhouette and/or weight shifted to one side and/or arms crossed in front of your chest? If so, recalibrate by finding an empty wall to stand against, heels at the baseboard, hip width apart. Weight each foot evenly, bend knees slightly, keeping buttocks, back of chest, shoulders and head against the wall. The chin should be parallel to the floor and not upward tilting and arms should be extended downward in line with the hips. Now tilt the pelvis until the tip of the tailbone points straight down toward the floor and the navel is lifting upward and backward toward spine. Slowly lift and tighten the kneecaps until legs are straight. Keep chest lifting upwards toward chin without lifting chin.
That’s proper alignment!
It should feel much more open and supported though not necessarily familiar or easy to maintain as very few folks are practiced in this posture and most lack the awareness and musculature for maintenance. Great news is that it’s a completely accessible and free fix, just not super quick. All that is required is sustained motivation, (see above list as often as necessary, or have a family member take a quick photo of you when you aren’t paying attention, revealing!) awareness and practice. I encourage clients to post visual reminders in places they inhabit most frequently, e.g. car, office, kitchen etc.. They can be as simple as sticky notes with written cues, codewords or a photograph. The more often the old, bad posture is interrupted and corrected, the more likely it is to be sustained increasingly over time. Conditioning ones core, legs and back is also helpful as is habituating the standing practice of holding one arm behind the back, with hand encircling opposite upper arm above the elbow. Just remember to alternate sides!