Friday, August 31, 2012
Copyright Lance Kinseth, 48”x48, 2011
RATHER THAN BEING an adjunct practice for individuals that can’t do “regular yoga,” restorative yoga may be the foundational or core practice upon which other yoga practices are built.
In restorative yoga, the permission to be quiet and calm and gentle and slow paced provides a structure for the deep grace of yoga practice to flower. In restorative yoga, body-mind can open spirit.
Freedom for the body rather than control of the body, and kindness to oneself can be practiced in restorative yoga in a way that may be alien to modern yoga. Restorative yoga may be the cutting edge of yoga and that which we will come to describe as “health.” Rather than fitness or even more comprehensive wellness, restorative yoga may open the gate of thriving.
Quiet and calmness and stillness of the body,
Reducing the cycle of respiration,
Directing the mind to listen to the body (listening especially to the place(s) of tension that is generated by the pose),
Inhaling and reaching, and exhaling and relaxing, and
Stretching like a cat rather than pushing:
These are the actions of restorative yoga that might then outspread to the practice of the vaster repertoire of asanas [poses].
Following a grounding in restorative practice, the vast array of yoga asanas can then be practiced with an emphasis upon being quiet, holding poses, and relaxing into the poses [releasing spindles in muscles and Golgi reflex in tendons] to amplify flexibility/suppleness. And even though the practice may become physically “easier,” increases in flexibility may outperform a more physically intensive yoga practice.
By beginning with calmness and quietness, a foundation is laid that can be applied to other poses. All asanas serve a larger yoga that is far more than the poses per se.
The calmness and quietness—central to restorative yoga—demands adherence to and integration of the practices of yoga such as the yamas and niyamas [e.g., contentment/santosha]. Historically, yoga was perhaps centered on “stillness” and meditation as methods for spiritual insight. Attention gradually outspread to techniques to free the body to assist in this goal.
Yoga has become popularized in a time when fitness is the core body practice. But fitness is often far more body than mind and is even injurious, and further, often proscribes attention to “spirit.” A more active, fast flow of poses [i. e., sequences of “Sun Salutations”] make up the primary approach to popular, modern yoga that is dominated by a fitness orientation.
Yoga is likely to be optimized by slowing down. Aerobic fitness is better served by amping up time and pace on a treadmill or “step machine” than by doing yoga, as has been well demonstrated by fitness research.
It is possible to do more difficult poses and to end practice feeling “grogged” or deeply relaxed, so that yoga becomes a deeply enjoyable process of being kind to oneself, and freeing and listening intuitively to the body-mind rather than becoming an effort to control the body.
Tuesday, August 14, 2012
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Aiki Flow, 2012
THAT WHICH IS said to be “yoga” or ‘tai chi” or “aiki” is likely constrained by our willingness to be constrained. We are social animals. Buddha people might wear Buddha clothes and eat Buddha food. Birds and mountains do not follow a list of admonitions, and yet they are said to have Buddha-nature.
This is not to say that there is no benefit in subscription to a system, but the system is not the thing persisting.
There is a place in body-mind where yoga, tai chi and aiki fade away, perhaps sustaining as guideposts along the way but not as the essence of these practices.
Yoga, tai chi and aiki can provoke a lot of chatter—endless styles and variations. The calmness of restorative-yin practice likely appears to offer a profound gateway for listening, opening, fading away…
When doing the yoga that you know, perhaps try doing the yoga that you do not know. Try to do what you are not doing. What might begin to appear? What is in between?
Perhaps NOT giving up body-mind practices so that there in no yoga, no tai chi, or no aiki, but rather, a yoga-no that reaches beyond style and variation, and asks again and again,
What is This Single Grace Persisting?
Thursday, August 2, 2012
“Fitness” focuses on optimizing strength, aerobic/anaerobic endurance, and flexibility. With no interest in yoga, contortionists and acrobats and gymnasts may be more skilled in terms of flexibility and strength. Popular yoga is often faster paced “fitness” yoga that aims at increasing flexibility, endurance, losing weight or increasing oxygen intake—all of which are either largely false or offering limited gains at best in comparison to other methods.
As a body-mind practice, yoga might be measured differently, and it may be what distinguishes yoga if one gets a sense of a different measure.
Body-mind practices emphasize something deeper, something more foundational that is more important than technique as the measure of effectiveness. In body mind practices that prioritize a goal of “art,” efficacy is likely to be measured almost by the absence of technique. When the technique is less intentional in an optimal practice, many techniques may spontaneously appear. With an artistic bent, the focus in on replacing habits/response that are not effective and, therefore, allowing the body-mind to respond freely rather than apply a specific new technique to control the body. Effort is directed toward freeing rather than controlling.
In martial practice, a person might be very skilled with sword techniques, but not in art (Korean: sul [technique] is not the same as do [art]). Often high skill in technique is strongly associated with ego. While the person may have great technical ability, they are not able to subsume the master’s art. Art or do is open, fresh, and deeply, wisely humane—even soft and simple.
Non-physical qualities as flow, patience, contentment, calmness and quietness are all preparatory for technique to be optimal in body-mind practices—and likely in all physical endeavors, including performance sports. In high-end athletic performance, only about one-third of participants are able to carry over skills in competition that they can do more consistently in practice. In Olympic performance, the one-third of individuals who can carry over skills are likely to be the Olympians, but even then they may find it difficult to consistently carry over skills because the predominant emphasis is on fitness and technique.
High-end mental and even spiritual qualities can become consistent traits. But our approach to such elements tends to be secondary or sporadic or “something for later,” rather than foundational.
If one “flows” more than does a technique, any identifiable “technique” that emerges is likely to be more effective.
Restorative-Yin Yoga is foundational in the sense of making yoga optimal in the sense of emphasizing "art." It concentrates on high-end mental and spiritual qualities. It is not simply either “beginner yoga” or yoga for those who must compensate due to health issues. If made a foundational, consistent element of yoga practice, restorative-yin yoga deeply colors all subsequent yoga practice. And yet, its practice tends to be largely absent and very secondary. The result is an orientation toward yoga fitness in the time that practitioners are likely to make available for yoga practice.
As a body-mind-spirit practice, restorative-yin yoga is more akin to martial art mastery than “beginner yoga,” and it fosters almost a disappearance of technique in authentic mastery.
Rather than wait until the “alphabet of yoga poses” is learned, it may be more important to begin one’s body-mind practice with grounding in high-end mental and spiritual practices that then guide techniques. Without it, the practices tend to become mass “training” rather than art. The true “mechanics” of body-mind work are such things, for example, as the deeply grounded flow rather than the technique resulting in flow. And it is these deeper artistic “mechanics” that ultimately optimize techniques, flexibility gains and strength.