By: Sandi Tindal, Founder and Head Instructor of Anchored Vessel Yoga and Dallas Aqua Yog
This article begins with what may come across as a strange question:
Do you find that you readily recognize your unconscious habitual patterning?
Some of you who are reading this article may be completely new to yoga or have no experience with yoga at all (“What is that word asana in the title?”). You may have seen people creating interesting shapes with their body by placing the extremities of their limbs at certain locations or you may have even attempted some of the shapes for yourself. You may have tried for a while and then decided that yoga wasn’t for you. Some of you may be well into the journey and have a strong dedication to practicing what you find as curiously addictive positions and postures.
The practice of yoga postures or asana has been largely promoted to benefit the systems of the human body in various ways: improving mobility, building strength, releasing tension, enhancing respiration and even reorganizing the neural connections in the brain.
However, let’s revisit that bizarre question again – “Do you find that you readily recognize your unconscious habitual patterning?” Have you heard from anyone before that the practice of yoga postures could be used as a way to inform you and reveal to you your unconscious holding and movement pattern tendencies? That the poses don’t have to be these things to be conquered or necessarily accomplished but that instead they are available to us for self-inquiry?
I began my journey into yoga like most – being exposed to a variety of postures. I did find them curiously addictive. So much so that I decided to delve in deeper and explore what made them so appetizing by studying to become a yoga teacher. After I completed my certification and began teaching, I found myself as a teacher becoming more and more of a student – a student of human body holding patterns and movements by carefully observing my students. What surfaced was alarming to me because I began to see how unaware and unconscious as humans we can really be of our prior conditioning. I saw students repeatedly entering into positions with an innocent lack of awareness of which muscles were unnecessarily overactive and of which muscles needed to be awakened. I watched and listened to students along the whole spectrum from stiff to hypermobile all wanting to know how to further their practice. What I came to realize is that advancing practice required that one be informed as much as possible of their current state. You need to become aware of what you are typically unaware of – your habitual patterning. Also, you cannot know where you are unless you have stable points of reference. And you also do not fully appreciate where you are unless you go somewhere else.
For many of us, the only point of reference we are accustomed to in day to day living and yoga postures practice is the ground plane and full gravity. We are also used to orienting ourselves with respect to gravity with our heads up and feet down. In our western culture, we are on the move a lot and sometimes at a hectic pace (which can creep into a yoga practice as well). If we can take the time to slow down, pause and connect with interesting shapes by adding in another point of reference (anchoring at the wall) and another place to go or medium to work the body in (water), we can awaken, enliven and cultivate a greater appreciation of how to work with our body in an integrated and wholesome way. We may even begin to pick up on our particular habitual patterning which may be serving us well or not so well.
The idea of anchoring appears in the wall rope system developed by B.K.S. Iyengar. The beauty and cleverness of the wall ropes is that it provides security to another plane of support and serves as another point of reference for the body. Often in many yoga classes, students only have one plane of reference (the ground) to explore postures in. The body only receives feedback from the one plane and being able to detect the healthiest possible alignment becomes somewhat of a mystery to students who rely heavily on the teacher for a reality check. Through anchoring the student receives not only another stable surface to work against but also valuable feedback in how to position the body for the most balanced effort throughout the entire body. What may have been perceived as a very difficult pose with one side of the body doing too much work suddenly becomes one that can be experienced with more stability, comfort and a sense of integration of the body working as a whole.
The environment of water provides a tremendous amount of sensory feedback to us as humans. We are accustomed to our land experience: usually only against one plane of reference and the experience of one type of force (the ground and gravity). We have a very difficult time knowing ourselves honestly and how certain things feel in the body can over time become very familiar to the point that our awareness to what is really going on diminishes. The gift of being held in the water is that is provides an opportunity to refresh your perception of operating in your body. The unpredictable nature of moving in the water stimulates the mind. When you allow water to surround you in asana practice, you can learn the truth about imbalances in your body in a very kind and supportive way. Water tells you to go somewhere you didn’t know you could go. In the water, the body receives a great lift from the weight of gravity. This provides freedom in some ways but very interesting challenges in others. It is in “interesting” that you can learn a great deal about yourself and see more clearly your specific patterns of body mechanics.
A funny thing about us as humans is we can be very good at telling ourselves a certain story about ourselves. Most of the time we are unaware of the story we are telling ourselves about ourselves. Unfortunately the stories we tell ourselves can become very misconstrued without accepting honest feedback from a wide variety of sources in the real world (often we unknowingly limit the kind of feedback we are willing to take). For healthy change and growth to occur in the sorts of stories we tell ourselves, we need to hear the truth about ourselves in a kind, supportive and diverse environment. We need to have revealed to us in a way we can really see our unconscious tendencies. Why not initiate the process through something tangible and physical? You can begin by anchoring yourself on land or in the water to refresh your perspective – not just towards postures but maybe towards your very own self.
Founder and Head Instructor of Anchored Vessel Yoga and Dallas Aqua Yoga
Sandi Tindal has been teaching yoga full-time in the Dallas community since completion of her yoga teacher training with North Texas Yoga in January of 2014. She is known for her ability to perceive accurately where each person’s capabilities are and to provide creative adaptations. Her teaching approach and viewpoint are significantly influenced by her background in engineering. Sandi finds that the human body is an engineering marvel and loves to share with others techniques on how to keep the body and mind functioning at their best.