Richard Freeman and Metaphors
I'd always been afraid to attend Richard Freeman's yoga workshops because I'd heard about his metaphors and thought they sounded too fruity. I thought they would be not helpful.
I was wrong. I finally attended on of his workshops at Space Yoga in Taipei, and his metaphors were all clear, helpful, and perhaps most importantly, quite humerous.
It's not that he doesn't take yoga seriously, (You can practice for 1000 years, and maybe then you'll be able to contract your pc muscle with ease… or even find it…) but he makes it fun at the same time.
After the workshop I slowly came to realize or believe that perhaps his metaphors or their development are based on a more taoist way of teaching. (He may have come by them from reading Taoist texts or working with Taoist teachers... or not. But it is the connection that I made.)
Information Presented Usefuly
One of the aspects of yoga that I've found challenging was that instruction can be vary vague or information, meaningful information hard to find. And actually in a lot of cases, reading "metaphors" put forth by other teachers, the metaphors they used added to the mystery rather than clarifying it.
With taoism, particularly with Mantak Chia and others, who use metaphor as a way of guiding awareness, it seemingly became easier to feel your body. At least I felt that way. My experiences from a student of Mantak Chia , Eric Yudelove, included exercises like breathing through the roots of my hair. This made me more aware not only of the hair on my head but my eyebrows, armpit hair and yes even my pubic hair.
The power of these metaphors was that for myself they made it easier to direct my awareness, even if at first glance they seemed funny, flaky or even outrageous.
And the after affect of those exercises, whether they do take in excess energy from the hair, or simply serve as a guide for moving awareness around the body, was that I usually felt pretty good afterwards.
And that was the beauty of Richard Freeman's metaphors. They all helped to direct awareness usefully.
Someone might say "Open your heart" and mean it in a warm and cuddly kind of way.
In Richards case it could mean using your intercostals to lift and expand your ribcage.
Or in the case of "Spreading the wings of the kidneys", he may mean using a combination of intercostals and levator costalis to open the back bottom half of the ribcage.
Or for the base of the skull, "Spreading the wings of the occiput" I could feel muscles activating that helped to fine tune the position of my neck and head.
Oooh, I can feel an actual spreading sensation there. An indication to me that He got me to fine tune the activation of my neck muscles.
Or best of all "Let the angels pull your sitting bones back." This was in downward facing dog.
Prana and Apana (Obvious and Subtle)
His two over reaching metaphors where apana and prana. Actually he spoke in terms of apanic and pranic actions so as to unify prana and apana. These more metaphysical metaphors I thought of as
- "grounding" actions and "expressing" actions or
- "supporting" and "opening" or
- "easy to feel" (pranic) and less easy to feel or less obvious "apanic."
These two over riding principles he used as a way of tying together or grouping body actions. Personally I found it made the actions easier to remember and contextualize.
In terms of building a building, apana would be the base or foundation and prana the building itself. Or apana would be the frame and prana all the bits and pieces hanging from the frame.
Another way to think about these terms would be "obvious" and "subtle."
We didn't do warrior 2 in class but I believe he would call the front arm in this pose pranic. Why? Becuase it is the arm that we are looking at and thus the easier one to feel. The back arm would be apanic. You have to consciously choose to be aware of this arm, or at least a lot of us with poor body awareness have to.
Similiarly with lifting the chest, it's easy for most of us to do because we can see it. Less obvious and challenging to feel is spreading the wings of the kidneys.
Terms that I believe could be used similarly are yin (apana) and yang (prana.)
The over all purpose of these terms was to unify the whole body.
Unify Apana and Prana?
Can you truly unify an inhale and an exhale? Perhaps that too is another metaphor. You can unify the effects of them both, the apanic and pranic qualities, by creating feeling your whole body and getting it involved in its entirety in what you are doing.
Then all the parts of your body are acting as one, or if you like, acting towards one goal, one unifying idea.
And that was the beauty of the way that Richard Freeman taught, he taught us how to unify the body.
The metaphors were one way of helping us to feel our body and control it.