Yoga Articles by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad

Playing the Edges - Yoga & the Athlete (Page 2)

by Ian Jackson, in reference to Joel Kramer

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When the mind is controlling, there is always a gap between what you are doing and what you want to be doing. The mind has an image of the perfected position, or a memory of yesterday's levels of flexibility or whatever. And it finds the gap between the image and the reality disturbing. It gets anxious, and that anxiety is physical - a bind in the tissue, a blockage of energy.

“If you allow the breath to be the controlling factor, there is no gap. Then there is a total movement of energy which is extraordinarily efficient. And the energy is not dissipated in the push to get past the edges of your tightness, but it enters into the exploration of the edges. ”

"When you are working in an asana, your edges, or limits, reveal themselves to you in the sensations of stretch in the muscles and joints. You have to tune into body/mind feedback to play the edges with awareness. Playing your edges elicits a quality of attention which places you in the living instant. This is the essence of yoga."

I tried to remember the quality of awareness in my recent practice, but I couldn't really be sure about it. I was not even sure if last night's practice had been alive and aware. My sore hamstring suggested that striving for perfection had deadened it.”

“Yoga is self-exploration. It's a way of learning about yourself. Learning and exploring take energy. If while actually doing yoga you are comparing yourself with others, or with your idea of the perfect posture, or with anything else, the energy you devote to comparison is lost from yoga.”

“We have been conditioned to be accomplishment oriented,” Kramer continued. “But to be accomplishment oriented in yoga is to remove the energy from the process. It's the doing of the yoga that's got to turn you on. If achieving certain levels of flexibility turns you on, then you're going to find yourself aiming at them. The paradox is that the more you are interested in the goals, and the less in the doing, the less accomplishments come. The less you are interested in them, the more they come.”

I thought back to my running, and how I had amazed myself in racing time after time. I remembered how easy running, for the sheer joy of it, had led to marathon times that I simply couldn't believe. And I remembered how everything had turned sour: when, having tasted success as an accidental byproduct of doing something I loved, I began to get greedy for more, and to grasp for it.

"For me, the doing of yoga is learning how really to tune into the feedbacks, to the energy. In a very real sense, yoga for me is play. It is playing with oneself in a very intimate and direct way. And, as is the case with all play, yoga doesn't take any effort. This might be hard to grasp at first, but you see it whenever you watch a child playing. A child at play expends an enormous amount of energy, but no effort. Yoga is adult play, and, like child's play, it involves a great amount of energy, but no effort."

I thought back to my best marathon, and the uncanny feeling of just sitting back for a free ride and paying attention simply to keeping the running body in trim. I spent all my energy in that race. I was exhausted when I crossed the finish line. But the energy seemed to flow through me. All I had to do was use it economically. I didn't have to strive to generate it. It came by itself; the race situation called it out.

"Whenever you force yourself, you're forcing yourself towards something - a goal, an end, a result. The end becomes the focal point of attention. You get trapped in pushing yourself towards that end, whether it be a completed posture, releasing a bind in the body, or, more remotely, the ideas you have about self-improvement, higher consciousness or enlightenment."

I added to myself "or the desire to run a sub-2:30 marathon." Everything that Kramer was saying about yoga applied directly to my running experience. I had to admit that I had not fully learned the lesson. My sore hamstring was painful proof that I was still attached to striving for goals.

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