intuitive stretching

Coming off of my second yoga teacher training session about a week ago, I feel an immense amount of gratitude and a true sense of well being as I return to my daily routine. I've been lying low for the last several days, soaking in some extra rest and urging myself to slow down in the latter half of what has felt like a whirlwind month.

One thing that I'm so thankful for is the changing of my relationship to certain yoga poses, just through learning more about alignment. There's no way for an instructor to cater to the different bodies of each individual in an hour long class. I am the opposite of flexible (so far, anyway) and it still takes me a while to "feel" into my body intuitively. Sometimes I communicate a message and my limbs so something wholly different. Breaking down each pose into it's disparate elements is really helping me learn what I should be looking for and feeling. In certain standing poses, like pyramid pose and Warrior I, I've always felt pain behind my extended knee. It's one thing to know that you hyper-extend the joints, like I do, and a whole different thing entirely to know what to do to prevent it. Ground deeply into the big toe, slight bend in the knee, engage the quad. Somehow poses I have hated for years are just now becoming enjoyable because of this shift.

And it's funny how pure focus on physical sensation can still lead to a sense of emotional security. Shift your mind, change your body. Shift your body, change your mind.

On our last day of yoga teacher training, our class followed an hour long sequence we each created for ourselves, getting our first taste of what a dedicated yoga session feels like when we are the teachers instead of being taught. I have had a home practice for a while, but this personal sequence really opened my eyes to how much I'd been going through the motions rather than truly pushing myself to find my edge. Our instructors gave us a basic guideline for structuring the class: welcoming, often with a theme; centering and focusing on becoming present in the breath; warming up the body; sun salutations; standing poses and culminating with a peak pose; backbends; seated postures; and final savasana.

I felt some apprehension about what my personal sequence would be like. Would I be distracted by what others are doing in the room? What if I couldn't figure out how to link poses? What if I just hang there in downward facing dog and have no idea what to do next as the minutes stretch by? I started creating my sequence by listing out every single move I would make, working through each transition in my mind. While it was great to visualize each posture, I also felt pressured to stick to my ordered list. Thinking that linearly was comforting at first, but before class I reworked my sequence into a loose framework to remove rigidity I had originally imposed on it.

Thankfully, the reality of my first personal class was much easier than I had anticipated. I settled in for a few minutes of seated meditation on my breath, letting self-consciousness melt away. By the time I pushed back into the first downward dog of my practice, I was already getting into a groove. Rooting down through my foundation - thumb and forefinger glued to the mat, firmly grounding through my big toes and pinky toes - inner arms and shoulders rolling away from my ears, knees bent, long spine, slow and intentional breath.

Unlike a usual vinyasa class where everyone in the room breathes in unison through each pose, my fellow classmates and I operated on different rhythms. Despite our different sequences, however, we still seemed to share a sort of energetic intensity.

My own self-practice was structured on the energetic vinyasa flow we're learning in teacher training, but there was a certain element of yin yoga to it. While I tried to keep correct alignment as my priority, I welcomed fluid stretches and lingering in certain poses to address what I felt like I needed in the moment.

As I lay down in savasana, final resting pose, I had a few minutes to spare. Somehow I had timed my first ever class almost exactly to an hour. This in itself was hugely elating, and I considered the timing to be as much success as I could have hoped for.

When I returned to work that Monday, I didn't feel the jarring loss of leaving my safe little yoga commune. Instead I felt a sense of ease and contentment, which I partly attribute to my personal sequence.

I think we often underestimate our capabilities. Or disregard our own intuition. But it can be a welcome surprise when we listen to what our own bodies and minds tell us we should do. When we stretch ourselves, either physically or mentally, we open ourselves to the possibility of doing more and better things than we could have hoped for or even expected.

Honestly, I know it's not feasible for everyone to take yoga teacher training - or even want to - but both from an alignment perspective for safety and for self-development on and off the mat, I wish this type of instruction was just a life-requirement. I am learning so much and feeling incredibly grateful for these lessons each day and the extend well beyond the yoga studio.

Iris Rankin

Soulful questioner, exuberant organizer, here to find the balance between discipline and delicious relaxation. Iris Rankin is the founder of Project Intention, a values-based community focused on living day-to-day with purpose, planning, and heart. Iris encourages women to adopt the self care practices that make them feel divine, the planning tools to hone in on their essential wants and needs, and the emotional resilience to express their most authentic selves.



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