Patient Observation in Yoga by David Berson
On the first day of ninth grade my teacher read a story about a student assigned to examine a fish http://grammar.about.com/od/classicessays/a/Look-At-Your-Fish-By-Samuel-H-Scudder.htm to the class. In a short time the student made some notes and went to share them with the professor. The professor insisted the student reexamine the fish and find more details. This repeated several times, where the student would note things he overlooked before, and the professor would request the student to look again. As the student continued to study the fish he made more notes. He studied the arrangement of the teeth and shapes of the scales. He also noted things that at first seemed too obvious to state, such as pairs of organs and their symmetry. Finally, the professor allowed the student to move on to other types of fish. Now the student could make comparisons of what was similar and different between types of fish. Some time later a collection of students were amusing themselves with animal drawings on a chalk board. When the same professor came by, he easily observed that all the fish were drawn by his former student.
Though I enjoyed math class in school, I don’t recall what point this math teacher wanted to make with this story. Nonetheless, that story has always stuck with me.
While working to increase my time in headstand I recalled this story again. The longer I stayed in the pose the more I noticed. First I noticed that if I breathe through my mouth I get tired quicker. The later in the day I practice the pose, the quicker it starts to fall apart. Then I noticed that my upper spine is where I start to fall a part. If I reestablish the concave back shape, I relieve the discomfort in my neck and can stay in the pose longer. I also noticed that where my eyes gaze changes the pose. Looking towards the floor quickens the breath. Looking towards the heart calms the mind and makes the pose easier.
Like the student in the fish story I’ve carried these observations into other poses. When something gets uncomfortable that’s not always the place that is out of alignment. The state of the breath and mind affect the quality of all poses.
After experiencing the lesson of patient observation in headstand I realized another parallel between the fish story and my home yoga practice. When I first started trying poses at home I would just make the shape of each pose that I learned in class. I was eager to move on to the next pose. Later I tried to hold each pose long enough to make one improvement. The improvements were usually based on something from the teacher said in class. Now as I hold poses longer, I look to see what principles of Iyengar yoga I can apply to a pose. In the process I may find a similar action from another pose. Or I may find a previously overlooked little action that is a big help to holding the pose.
What can you discover in your poses?