Elements of Ease: Yield

As a former school teacher, it's ingrained in my behavior to find connections and create a scaffold to inform the way I teach yoga.  When I first moved to Portland, my class schedule was filled with 4 Restorative yoga classes a week at 3 different studios. (Later it evolved to 5 classes at 5 different studios.)  The environment, vibe and props were all different at these places, but the purpose of teaching Restorative yoga was the same: to provide a respite from the world in order to face the challenges that we are presented with on a daily basis. 

In my mind, I usually had a running checklist of all the necessary pieces and parts that I made sure to touch upon: relax the body, deepen the breath, find spaciousness in the mind, remember your innate wisdom, to feel an inner radiance.  A tall order to fill for sure, but through guidance, space and stillness, this is possible - on some days.  

One day, after perusing old journals and notebooks, I realized that this mini-checklist that I used to teach Restorative yoga, was actually directly tied to the subtle body anatomy of the Koshas.  These five layers that make up an individual being, that inform and influence the way that we show up in the world, were the layers through which I meant to guide a student.

It was from this new understanding and awareness of the Koshas that I created the Five Elements of Ease - a teaching tool that can be used as support within a singular pose and for the class as a whole. 

The first kosha is Annamaya kosha and refers to the physical body.  In Restorative yoga, the body is meant to relax and release tension, in order to find ease and spaciousness.  Inspired by the work of Donna Farhi, I stumbled upon the word Yield, thinking that this was what best described the action that the body was doing.  And so the first Element of Ease is Yield. 

It has only been recently that my knowledge and understanding of the word Yield has taken on a whole new dimension.  Through my participation in the online course Emotional Literacy for Yoga Teachers lead by Livia Cohen-Shapiro, I've come to learn that Yield is the very first movement pattern that our bodies experience in utero.  Yield is the body's response to actually being able to receive support and in that receiving the body rests.  In Restorative yoga classes, we don't need to rely on the muscles and bones to keep us held, in fact, the joints rest in flexion and our bodies open, sensation is subtle in terms of 'stretching' and any discomfort will deter the physiological process of relaxation.  Yield allows us to rest in our watery-like nature, mimicking the fluidity of the womb and perhaps even providing the same warmth, comfort and security.  When we Yield we become more present to the ground on which we are supported, more present to the dynamic release of stress and present to what might arise when we allow ourselves to let go.

It's from this movement pattern that that we enter into a state of being. A state of being is not something that you do, but it comes from a sense of allowing, accepting and receiving.  There's no goal or standard that's trying to be achieved, other than welcoming the moment filled with subtle sensation, breath or stillness.  It's in this state that the healing can begin.  

Yield is the doorway into exploring our wild, ever-changing internal life.  As we cross that threshold time and time again, we build our own capacity to self-soothe and find an inner respite that truly allows us to show up courageously one day at a time. 

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Mudra: Energetic Seal

Mudras become the placeholder for my energy to remember what it's like to fell whole and connected.  This gesture attunes my body, breath and mind to one single stream. It anchors me to the here and now.  Uniting all of the pieces and parts of myself within the simplicity of palms pressing or index finger and thumb touching.  Each time I touch my palms together my begin remembers what my nature is meant to be and the tension and anxiety melt away.

Moving in and out of asanas brings a sense of recognition, also.  As you fill the shape with breath and energy or notice how the breath and energy changes within a shape, we become more attuned to our own presence. When a pose feels easy, I feel ease. In more challenging poses, my focus and attention are challenged in ways that actually the pushing and pulling to soften. 

Any gesture - outward or inward - leaves an imprint.  A smile, a kindness, these shape you in incremental ways.  Depending on the day, these things might have the power to alter our state of mind, if we allow it to.  Frequent small gestures pave the way for changes and shifts within our practice.  

Shakti: the energizing and animating principle of the Universe

In the quiet stillness of the morning, my breath is soft and steady, my mind undisturbed by the pull of the external.  The energetic quality of my being in this moment is in a state of equanimity.

Stillness, the act of being. Movement the act of becoming.  The two interwoven into the fibers of my body.  Asanas hold a container for energy and breath.  My steady meditation seat a vehicle for shake to do her dance of thought, images and memory - floating, intermingling in the space of my mind.  Tap into the steadier rhythm of breath to tame, to quell, to soothe . . . 

I forget that this energizing principle is also at play in my daily life.  The ebb and flow of motivation and inspiration coming and going like waves on the shore.  There are moments of quiet reflection and moments of action.  Shakti's untapped potential is always there, waiting to bring forth inspired moments of creativity and resourcefulness, but it is the moments spent in stillness that make space for her to invigorate and animate.

As my body settles into a pose, the breath inspires more connection, fuels a sense of spaciousness.  The steadiness of my gaze, whether towards an internal or external point, allows the mind to quiet, to let go of enactment and take a step closer to embodiment. 

Guru: teacher

It's so easy in this world of instant information and endless access to social media to lose connection to our own guru, or inner teacher.  With a constant bombardment of messages on how to be better, not good enough and do more - we forget that we are already devoted to a guru.  We sit at the foot of a guru the instant we sit in silence.  The moment we turn away from the external and sit in the weight of our own experience. 

Om: the vibratory sound of everything

I feel Om as a deep resounding vibration, moving from my pelvic floor, into my heart and finally, in the space between my eyebrows. The silence following the Om leaves my body pulsing with connection to something bigger.  I feel deeply rooted to the present unfolding of this one moment.  

To participate more deeply in the Universe means to have our inner and outer states reflected in one another.  To be able to notice the state of our heart and have our hearts be in the same place as our head and the rest of our body.  As Mark Whitwell writes, " . . . . all the power and intelligence of life is appearing in you, as you." 

Adhikara: your gifts

Overlooked, unseen or denied . . . I sometimes have an inability to what is unique or special about ourselves until we step into a particular challenge, problem or opportunity.  And then it seems my gifts and talents make themselves know.  Sometimes I haven't honed a particular skill  . . . I know what I want to cultivate, but sometimes its hidden beneath the fear and doubt.  Then I must coax those strengths out from underneath that heavy cloak of denial . . . as I settle into my own skin, a recognition emerges that I do have something to offer - sage, explorer, writer, teacher thinker, nurturer, listener, partner . . . 

Sankalpa

I align my practice to the qualities of strength, ease and peace for my body, mind and heart.  It's more of a wish that my practice will allow me the ability to remember this intention.  On my mat, my intention is held within the inner sanctum of my heart . . . stepping off of my mat requires a lot more tenacity to hold steady to this vow, this promise, this resolution.