by Eric Stewart
The end of the year is coming up fast, which means that the Winter Intensive is also just a few weeks away. The early registration discount for the intensive is available only until Friday, December 20.
The intensive offers a chance to immerse yourself and explore practice on a different level compared to attending class one or two times per week. If you’ve never done an intensive and are curious but unsure about doing so much yoga, feel free to speak with me and we can figure out if it would be a good fit. It is possible to do parts, rather than the whole event.
In the intensive, we take an approach to the practice that’s known as Simple Yoga. You may be aware that many of the classes we offer on our weekly schedule are also called Simple Yoga, and perhaps you’ve wondered what the name is all about.
In short, Simple Yoga helps people let go of strain so that they can connect with their bodies and make space for what they value most.
To better understand the specifics of this, I’ll describe a bit about how I came to Simple Yoga.
In the time I’ve spent as a student and teacher of yoga, I’ve explored a number of different methods and approaches with many skilled teachers. In all of that study I’ve noticed that the primary difficulties I’ve encountered in practice stem from subtle, often unconscious things I do to myself that get in my own way. As a teacher, I’ve found that this occurs for other people as well.
At the same time, much of the instruction that’s used in yoga (and also the self-instruction that occurs in personal practice) is framed in terms of doing things to the body. Often these teachings are insightful and lead to greater freedom. Other times however, such instructions impose conditions on people and their bodies that don’t make sense and lead to strain.
I understand that the guidance provided by a skilled teacher is often meant to lead a person to exactly the unencumbered state of not getting in one’s way that interests me in Simple Yoga. Yet I’ve seen many times that even with such intention, it is easy for the teacher or the student to slide into a striving that is counter-productive.
One reason for this has to do with how concentration is employed in much of modern asana practice. Concentration is rightly regarded as an essential state in all forms of yoga. When in balance, concentration allows the mind and body to settle. However if overdone, it can become rigid, generating tension that impedes awareness and perception.
As much as the yoga tradition values concentration, it also emphasizes other states of attention, and I’d say that some of these are underemphasized compared with concentration. Therefore such states are understood less in yoga as it is currently practiced. For instance, equanimity (vairagya) is an attitude that checks the narrowing tendencies of concentration.
And while concentration is one of the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, it is just one element in a web of interrelated qualities that are all together supportive to finding freedom.
The Yoga Sutra contains profound insight into the causes of self-generated tension. On the whole, Patanjali’s process of yoga is best described as being subtractive, finding more from doing less.
In my own practice and teaching then, I’ve sought to develop language and methods that emphasize this subtractive process. Instead of imposing teachings onto people and bodies, I am interested in communicating how students can learn to identify their own impediments, let them go and open into their inherent support.
Simple Yoga then, is about getting out of the way. It is about paring back restrictive patterns that interfere with freedom. It emphasizes the coordination and curiosity of the whole person.
If you haven’t given Simple Yoga a try and are curious about it, stop by for a class. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be writing more about what makes Simple Yoga simple and how it can help.
And once again, if you are interested in the Winter Intensive, don’t forget that early registration ends December 20.