Richard Freeman, Moving Beyond Technique
Alignment instructions and techniques as "starting points" for learning poses
In a Richard Freeman workshop that I attended, one of the things that he talked about was getting attached to techniques. With respect to stretching the hamstrings he said that you could focus on rolling the thighs in or our (spiraling in or out) or you could focus on pressing the heels down. Either one of these (or both in combination) are a way of getting deeper into the pose. However, they are both "techniques."
He said that you might find a particular technique works quite well that you get attached to it, and then all of a sudden it doesn't work.
I've found that a lot in my own practice.
One question I wish I would have asked in retrospect, how do you know when a technique is a "technique."
I imagine the answer might be "If it doesn't work all of the time."
He said that within all those techniques, or between them, is the middle way or the true way. And to find that way you have to play with the techniques and explore them, a little of this and a little of that.
In this way your pose becomes more alive much the same way we ourselves can become alive if we are present, and noticing what is happening now as opposed to working on autopilot.
Alignment as a Starting Point (not the goal)
I believe that what he was indicating is that alignment, or actions are only guidelines for getting into a pose. Once you've learned to get into a pose one way, look for other ways. And then instead of focusing on the different techniques, focus on feeling your body while you are in the pose and "feel" what you need to do.
If we constantly focus on doing the same asanas in the same way, we aren't really exploring or experiencing the asana or our body.
It would be like a chef who always follows a recipe to the letter instead of going by taste.
Not that recipies aren't a good starting point (and in baking, measurements can be crucial) however in cooking, it's the taste that's important, and to get the taste (and the look) just right, that requires attention. And perhaps intuition.
Moving Beyond Technique
How do we move beyond the need for recipies and techniques?
By using our senses. By feeling our body. And by responding to what we sense. Tasting some soup, you might think there isn't enough salt and so it tastes bland. What do you do? Add more salt.
Or sometimes you are cooking and you totally mess up but you don't realize till the very end. In asana practice that would be the eqiuvalent of a practice where you feel like crap afterwards or you injury yourself.
What do you do?
Look back to figure out where you went wrong.
Better yet, you adjust the way you practice so that mistakes are easier to spot and prevent before you make them.
Or you practice in such a way that you are aware of what you are doing (and the order in which you do it) so that you have something to change the next time around.
Finding Alignment from Within
I think that sometimes a focus on alignment or technique can be oppresive. Worse yet, we might fear "not doing it correctly." However, if we only focus on alignment and technique then we may get further away from our body as opposed to closer to it.
To truly unify ourselves with our body we need to learn how to feel it and control it. Alignment can be a guide towards that but it is only a first approximation. It's helpful for teachers because as teachers we can see whether you are listening or not and it helps us to tell you clearly what to do.
However, if you learn to feel your body, then you can learn to find your alignment... your positioning from within.
Becoming Our Own Teacher
Often times as a teacher I'll say something and see a response. At other times I can say the same thing and see no response. So I change what I say. (Or say nothing at all and let the students get on with what they are doing.)
When doing yoga poses our selves we can become our own teacher by trying out different techniques or actions to see what works on any given day and at any given moments.
However, to get there, it's helpful to have the techniques.
Or another route is to simply experiment.
Then you truly are living life.
It may be that the techniques are often ways of tricking our body into getting into a pose. Or we are too tight or don't have the necessary experience to get into the pose quickly. But with practice, we get more used to the pose, our body grows and learns and as a result we no longer need the intermediate steps, or on some days we can skip it and so doing the steps is a waste or a hinderance (like using training wheels on a bike when we can already balance) and so what we actually need to do is forget the step and get on with what we are doing.
However, we don't forget it completely because we can use it to help others. Or some days our body takes a step backwards or needs a little bit of help and so we bring the technique back.
The question then is, how do we know when to use it or not?
By being aware, by being sensitive.
By listening to our body.
"Honey do I look fat?"
"Honey, you don't look fat and you are beautiful and I love you."
"You never listen to me."
"Let me give you a hug."
(Sometimes its not the words that matter, but what is behind the words. But only sometimes.)
Using Our Senses
How do we listen to our body? By noticing the sensations. Actually, by focusing on specific parts and noticing the sensations in those parts.
And by understanding (or trying to understand) what those sensations mean.
As an example, imagine never having flown a plane and then jumping into the cockpit of a plane.
What do all the dials mean? You touch a knob, you hear the engines come to life or you see a needle flicker. Other dials stay still.
Learning to Fly Your Body (or Drive it)
You could do the smart thing and get an instructor or you could do another smart thing and focus on one control, gently turning it on and off and notice which dials are affected. And perhaps noticing whether the plane moves as a result.
Then, once you've figured out one control and its "indicator" then you move on to another control. Eventually you happen upon the control that starts the engine and another that gives the engine more power. So then the really smart thing before you play any further is figuring out how to make the plane stop and how to turn the engine off.
In the same way you can explore your body and learn it.
And if you are working under the guidance of a teacher you can do the same thing. You can learn how to control your body and how to feel it based on the instructions they give you.
Published: 2011 12 07