Today during our anatomy lesson, we discussed the difference between structural and functional variations in the way a person’s body moves into a yoga pose. “Structural” refers to something that we don’t attempt to change, something that is just the way it is (like how straight or curved your femur bone may be). “Functional” refers to the ways things are due to our previously learned lessons, our habits, our choices.
And during the subsequent lesson in posture lab, we found a habit of mine that I learned when I first began practicing yoga nine years ago (and a habit I need to learn to break now).
Before today, when I looked at this photograph of myself in Triangle Pose, I thought this posture was one of my best. The arms form a pretty vertical line, the legs are straight, my gaze is directed toward the sky. All is well, right?
Definitely not. I’m not actually forming a triangle at all with my torso. My hips are so squared to the camera that I’m making two obvious “C” curves with my sides. Apologies for being somewhat technical here… Let’s just say it took more than a dozen verbal cues from my amazingly patient instructor to help me adjust my hips in a way I have never felt before to align in the pose properly for what might be the first time ever in my life.
I was in awe of this moment today. I was so assured that I was doing the right thing, doing what I had been taught and encouraged to continue for years, that I didn’t even know I was nurturing a bad habit. And finding my way out of it with my instructor’s sage assistance felt beautiful and different and invigorating.
It made me think: how many other things in my life do I do out of blind habit? Because I learned it a certain way and stuck to it? Because I believe it to be correct? And how many times would I actually be better off learning an alternative method? Viewing it from a new angle or perspective? Questioning the “truth”?
Our minds are incredibly powerful entities, but they are also inherently flawed. They are full of chatter (vritti) about what we think is true, what we perceive things around us to be, what our imaginations create, what our memories signify. Even our sleep reveals where the mind runs when the rest of the body rests. But this is where yoga comes in, helping us work to quiet this chatter and become more aware of our true selves beneath it (and sometimes, like in my example, in both the physical and spiritual sense). And that alone makes this month of dedication to learning about this practice extremely gratifying.