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Fundamental Movement -
5 ways to explore the tapestry of Yoga
- by Amy Blythe

 



The milestone of a new year is a time for reflection. Having practised yoga myself for over twenty years, 2022 was my first full year as a qualified TYA teacher, and so I have much to reflect on! I have loved starting my teaching journey, sharing yoga and meeting lovely people. Forming and shaping a class has proven to be a fascinating challenge and there is so much variety, even at a basic level, in how yoga classes look and feel: online or in person, larger groups or one-to-ones, experienced students or complete beginners.


I have begun to take note of themes which run through all of my classes, regardless of the setting or students. I qualified during lockdown, and much of my teaching to date has been defined in response to the confinement – physical and spiritual – of our western lifestyles which was so magnified at that time. So, this year, I have decided to explore using a single point of focus to draw through my yoga classes, and indeed my own practice.

Like following a single thread as it is woven through a tapestry, I hope that one thread will meet the different parts of the overall image, at each point giving its own unique perspective. But of course that thread isn’t separate from the image – it is the image itself. So too our lives and our yoga practices are interwoven – the act of weaving, part of the image itself and part of us – our fundamental movement.

 

Balance as movement

 

In her beautiful book "Braiding Sweetgrass", Robin Wall-Kimmerer1 talks of how, counterintuitively, a state of equilibrium is not passive - it is achieved through constant effort on both sides of the fulcrum, each counterbalancing the other. Although to an observer we may have achieved stillness in garudasana, in reality we are anything but! The muscles of our legs, backs, arms, our sensory system and minds - all are responding and counteracting as our centre of gravity wobbles and wavers.

 

Thinking of balance in this way will, I hope, also be a lovely way to introduce students to the three gunas - tapas, sattva and rajas. For example, in considering how different asana make us feel and can change our mood and perspective, uplifting and energising us when we're feeling sluggish (a lovely warming round of sun salutations, perhaps?), or a few glorious minutes in viparit karani mudra bringing a sense of peace and calm when we are fractious. If we can learn to listen to how we are feeling, then perhaps with our yoga we can use the movement of our bodies to bring us towards sattva - balance.

 

Meditation

 

One of the first lines in the Patañjali Yoga Sūtras recalls us to the impact of movement - but here in our mind:

 

Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah.2

 

Yoga is the stilling of the movement of thought in the mind.

 

How beautiful to come to meditation from the perspective of movement. In my own meditation practice I have at times found I unintentionally fall into a 'success/failure' mindset. But just as our hearts beat and our lungs breathe, so our minds think. This movement of thought is part of how our mind manifests itself, and how we experience. So instead of fighting against this flow, a focus on stilling (or slowing) the actual movement itself may be really helpful.

 


Fundamental movement - meditation visualisations:
  • Stirring a glass of water (or a cup of tea!) with a spoon, then watching the swirling water slow and come to rest. Each new thought that comes to us is a new stir of the spoon.
  • Autumn leaves falling from trees to come to rest on a forest floor. Each new thought could be the falling of a new leaf – can we find a moment where the leaves are nestled on the floor around us and our view to the sky clear above?
  • standing on a bridge watching the water flow beneath – each thought becoming a stick to drop into the water and watch as it flows away.

 

I am also looking forward to applying this approach to moving meditation - in asana and vinyasa. It is interesting that stillness in our minds can sometimes be more easily achieved in the midst of movement - our awareness being caught and the focus held in the breathing rhythm of a vinyasa flow. So often in my own practice, this is where my mind finds its stillness.

 

And what if we could bring that feeling off the mat, and be able to apply it to the hurly and burly of our day-to-day lives? A worthy endeavour indeed!

 

Asana

 

For many students asana is probably the first thing that pops into their mind when they think of a yoga class. Flowing movement through a vinyasa, or the movement of our breath while we enjoy a releasing stretch is a beautiful thing. There are so many fascinating ways we can explore asana through the lens of fundamental movement, that I couldn't do them justice here - so asana will be the focus of a follow up blog, where I explore:

 

  • supporting our physicality away from the yoga mat,
  • movement as a response to gravity (how we connect to the floor!) and
  • moving away from a hierarchical perspective.

 

Physiology

 

We are moving beings. Every part of us moves, even in our deepest, stillest state of rest. From the first breath we take when we are born, to the very machinery deep within all our cells which transport molecules like robots whizzing along conveyor belts in a factory, we are defined by our movements.

 


Fundamental movement - physiology motivations:
  • The lymphatic system - this network so key to our immune and circulatory systems moves as we move - it has no pump to call its own (like our blood has the heart, or the breath the lungs). What better call to get on the mat, yogis!
  • Synovial joints - nourished and cleaned by their very movement.
  • Circulation - I love feeling my heartbeat responding and speeding up in a vinyasa and then slowing and calming during savasana.

 

Life and everything else

 

Understanding and learning more about life in all its glories is a continued source of inspiration and joy for me. Arguably, in many ways, it could be explored almost entirely through the lens of movement! I've picked out a few examples below, but the list is endless.

 


Fundamental movement - life lessons:
  • Movement is ever present even in the seemingly 'inert' rhythms and cycles such as the water, or nitrogen cycles - although the symbiotic glory of nitrogen fixing bacteria in pea plants is anything but inert!
  • The largest migration on earth- you may well never even have heard about it, but it happens daily, and more than 1,000 million tonnes of animal life takes part (for context, this is more than twice the mass of every human being alive today!). It is the daily vertical migration3 in our oceans - where life comes up towards the surface to feed at night, then escapes from the predators who could see them during the day by swimming back down to the dark depths to await their next round trip3.
  • The systems we have in place to transport food around the world - we live in an astonishing age where we produce more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet, but we do not move the food to share this bounty equally.
  • The earth itself (which feels so steady and solid beneath our feet) is actually dancing a dizzyingly rapid pirouette through space. As Monty Python so eloquently put it:
    Just remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
    And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
    It's orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it's reckoned,
    The sun that is the source of all our power.

 

A few final words

 

So I will be moving through the next year holding onto this thread, this perspective. These are my current thoughts, but my hope is to also stay open to whatever the tapestry reveals.

 

I wish you all happy movement yogis!

 

Amy Blythe - Atha Yoga - based in Thame, Oxfordshire.

Please do get in touch at athayogacontact@gmail.com

 

Links and resources:

 

  1. https://www.robinwallkimmerer.com/
  2. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali: Samādhi Pāda 2.
  3. https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/facts/vertical-migration.html


 

©Amy Blythe, January 2023

 

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