When I go to classes, my teacher is always on at me to relax my trapezius muscles, to slide my shoulder blades down my back. Especially in down dog. Thing is, it gets a little counter productive: as soon as she heads over to me, little feet padding across the floorboards, I feel my muscles seize up and my shoulders shoot to my ears.
It’s a tough one.
Awareness of a muscle doesn’t guarantee that we always have conscious control over it. Most of us aren’t even aware of which muscles are active and which passive, which in extension and which in flexion, at any given time. In fact, a lot of us can’t tell for sure if we are standing upright, stacked, weight evenly distributed, spine at its optimum position. Once we start to move – even just to walk – it all gets noticeably worse.
It’s this lack of proprioception that the Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais, for example, seek to address. The Gokhale Method works well too, I’ve been told.
Apparently, gymnasts and ballerinas are great to teach in any other physical practice because they can isolate muscles and put them into a state of relaxation or tension on command. And I would guess that experienced yogis fall in the same category.
There are photographs of yogis, aren’t there, who can control, independently, the right and left sides of their stomachs during specific breathing exercises.
Me, I’m not sure that I’ve yet really mastered any of my Bandhas.
Actually, I know that I haven’t. Another dispiriting discovery on my yoga journey.
I had a one-to-one a few weeks ago and Ness was peering intently at my belly. Not a happy situation for either of us, I’d imagine.
“Why is that bit around your waist punched in? It’s this bit, below your navel, that you need to hold.”
Gentle pokes accompanied the comments. I sucked in harder.
“No! Not there – here!”
I tried something else.
“Yes! Yes! That’s it. Now feel as if your lower ribs are energetically connected to your hipbones – that’s it. Yes. Hold that.”
I wasn’t quite sure what I had done. The muscle memory wasn’t there. It still isn’t. I have to stand in front of the mirror trying things out (while trying not to get distracted by all the Special K inches I could pinch).
In time, I suppose, I will be able to keep this bit not that bit toned on the mat.
For now, I do the best I can. And that, really, is enough.
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