This week, at the GM Tech Center & Renaissance Center classes we began our yoga practice standing. It's always a funny way to start, because at least half of the class wants to lie down or retreat from their workday in child's pose. I wanted to start a little differently, even in standing, so we started as if everyone was still at work.
I asked that we stand on the mat as if still at work on the job. We'll call it "I'm at work posture." Then we observe ourselves, noticing how the body is positioned and shaped and how it feels to stand this way.
From my perspective, people stiffened up and looked alert. The room felt taller and out of order a little bit, everyone standing so differently than I'm used to seeing in class. For some, their hearts lifted, for others their chests puffed up entirely. Some chins went up. There was the occasional bent knee and hand to hip with head tilted, a more relaxed look. There was some turning of the head to one side so one eye and ear is facing a bit more forward. Some hands were behind the back. Some arms were crossed.
I couldn't tell you how everyone felt individually in these postures. I can tell you, however, that it felt different for me to see everyone's bodies like this. I'm familiar with bodies; that's usually how yoga teachers get to know you. So all these familiar bodies that I'm used to seeing in more relaxed yet active positions were positioned in foreign ways to me. It felt loud and busy. Arms, legs, heads all positioned differently, everyone holding their own posture with the weight distributed differently in their feet. It felt much less open. It felt tense.
At the same time, it was funny, because it was just a comical thing to do: to bring the "work self" to the "yoga practitioner" space. And it was funny because, I mean, some of us easily looked like guards at Buckingham Palace! Come on, we have to laugh at ourselves. And it's funny because usually, the "work self" stays at the door when we go to practice yoga, or it leaves right when we get into that initial child's posture. We throw it off like an uncomfortable garment right when we get home; a suffocating bra, a useless necktie, tight socks. Whose idea were these?! Peace out restriction! Hello freedom in a cotton shirt and elastic band pants, loose summer dress, or super-fuzzy-soft-pajama pants and socks!
You can tell I like comfortable clothes... and jeans and "stretchy yoga pants" are not on that list.
The point of this exercise was so that we could each take note: What are these work postures saying about us; to us and to others? What are these postures communicating? What am I expressing?
Try it out if you haven't yet, or reflect on it now if you were in class with me.
Stand how you stand at work. What are you communicating when you stand that way? Try it now and be sure to take note when you are actually at work. We stand differently in different work settings, so give them all a try. The meeting stance (maybe in a chair of course), the seeing your boss in the hallway stance, the talking to the secretary/receptionist stance, the talking to the security guard stance, the talking to your higher-up or lower-down stance.
Are these postures different? Is there a theme that ties them together? Are they generally the same? What's the theme behind that?
You're saying something with your body in different situations. Pinpoint what you're saying and I suggest writing what you learn down. See the patterns, noting similarities and differences. So then what?
Identify the thoughts behind these postures.
The physical body is expressing something in your mind, whether you're aware of it or not. Let's become aware. What are you communicating? Are you saying that you know what you're doing? That you don't? That you want to? That you can be trusted? That you hate your job? That you're competent at your job? That you care about your work? That you're a leader? That no one here understands you? That you'd rather be at home? That you could work all day? That you do work all day? That you want people to get to know you? That you don't? So many possibilities. What are you trying to say in the various ways you position your body at work?
What are the thoughts behind these nonverbal statements? Write them down. Do any of your thoughts capture how you feel about your work? The people you work with? How you feel about yourself?
The way you express your physical body, the way you carry yourself, is an expression. You're expressing what you're thinking and feeling. Or, you're trying to cover up what you're thinking and feeling and carrying yourself to communicate the opposite. If that's happening, you're not letting you be you at work.
The physical body is a mode of communication. It communicates how you think and feel right now, and how you have thought and felt for most or part of your life in the past.
Most importantly, do you feel like you when you're at work?
If the answer is "No," we want to work to get to that point. We want to feel natural at work. When we don't feel like ourselves anywhere for that matter, it's hard to be there. Being at work can be easy if we feel like ourselves, not trying to prove anything. We want to come to a point where we can be ourselves in all settings. There may be slight differences as we adapt to different situations, but overall, we can strive for continuity.
Yoga is a way to become yourself. We change into ourselves.
Yoga offers a way for you to change into yourself everyday...every day.
So, after observing these "I'm at work postures", we begin to loosen up; bend of the knees, shoulders relax, neck softening a bit, arms hanging loose. To get there we may have to shake out a bit, or rotate shoulders and head. We relax the stance of trying to show others who we want them to think we are, and we just come into being comfortable in ourselves as who we are. And then we become more active, yet remain relaxed. Palms forward, shoulders back and down, thighs engaged, pelvis in slightly. Mountain posture, crown of head reaching for the sky.
When our shoulders are relaxed, we are more relaxed. We can deliver our talents more effectively when we are relaxed. Focus is more possible when we are mentally and physically relaxed. We aren't going on attack, we don't need to prove dominance. We aren't subject to anyone's will but our own, so we don't have to prove our submission. None of that will help us feel satisfied at work.
ONLY Being physically and mentally relaxed helps us do our work in a productive, efficient, focused, and meaningful way. We want to feel joy at work. When the mind is relaxed, the emotions are settled. Let your body relax and you'll open to that possibility.
Now, when we you are practicing yoga you are still communicating but not with anyone around you. If you are communicating with others it's indirect, and it's mostly by their observation, not your intention. Your intention is also not to encourage people, though you encourage others simply by being immersed in your practice. You encourage them to be immersed to. Your energy can be felt. Come with the energy to go inside yourself. A side effect of that is you'll encourage others to do the same, which is good for all of us. Your intention is not to show off to people or your coming from a place of competitive superiority. Observing each other, of course is helpful when we could use a little direction. Over-observing each other, however, means we are not focused on our own practice and, as I see it, we are refusing to communicate with ourselves, we are worried about others, and we want to make sure we're "doing it right."
Go inside, not outside.
When you're practicing yoga, you are communicating, but mostly or - solely - with yourself. You are expressing internally how you feel about a pose as you approach it and when you're in it. You are expressing how open or closed you are at the time to the posture and to the person facilitating class. You express to yourself and you listen to yourself.
When you can hear yourself internally, when you're listening, it may or may not sound like words. It's probably more of a feeling with few, if any words at all. The internal sounds are feelings, feeling vibrations. Feeling is your mode of communication. Feeling dwells in your unconscious and subconscious minds. One of our goals is to be applying a higher operating principle to these feelings without thinking. So, we aren't thinking cognitively in the usual sense of the word. We're feeling and acting intuitively, intuitive thinking, on these principles, moment to moment.
What are your principles? Your values? Ethics? Are you aware of the principles you are operating with in your practice? Are you operating from a sense of competition with those around you? Or are you operating with the principle of doing your best? Of trying something new? Of experimentation and exploration? Of refraining from harming yourself? Of practicing a joyful effort? Of not taking yourself so seriously? Of helping yourself? Of moving with loving intention. Have you narrowed these down yet?
This is a vital part of the yoga practice. Make an effort to locate your higher principles.
Responding to You
When you're listening to yourself, how do you respond? What is the response like? First off, it's a fast response! So quick you wouldn't know you said anything to yourself at all. Most people don't, actually, and you may not yet either, but we want as many people as possible to come into this knowledge, this internal communication. With practice, these internal vibrations, inner expressions, become more and more apparent.
How do you respond to the information you are communicating to yourself? Maybe you respond and get deeper into the pose, or shift into another pose, or deepen your breath, or pull away from the pose, or come into child's pose. So many possibilities, none of which we are thinking consciously about. We are thinking intuitively. We are practicing intuition; we are experiencing an inner dialogue and responding immediately. We aren't questioning or criticizing ourselves with the critical mind. There's no time for that in this process. We are just working at being who we are and listening and responding to that person with the utmost respect and care.
Thinking intuitively is like blending your unconscious awareness which is vast, with your higher operating principles in your conscious awareness. Your values, your ethical life, becoming more and more natural as you practice living according to your higher moral standards, blends in with your unconscious and subconscious feeling life. You act without question, without hesitation. You act in a deeply loving understanding.
Yoga on the mat is an internal dialogue taking place within you that is expressed with your movement. Different levels of your mind speak and listen to each other at the same time they are speaking and listening to your heart. That dialogue happens so quickly that it is more like a dance. The hands, arms, legs, and feet, bring out this inner dance as if choreographed instantaneously in the mind-heart. Come into your practice with this knowledge, and watch what happens. Come into work with this knowledge, and watch what happens.
Remember to relax your shoulders,
Photo Credit: Mohamed Nohassi on unsplash