When we experience any sort of pain – either in practice or in life – we habitually zoom in. We zoom in quickly to rid ourselves of the pain. We zoom in to find the solution. We try to solve the shoulder injury, the low-back tweekiness, the failing career, or the pain of losing someone.
In our method of yoga and mindfulness training, though, we practice zooming out. We encourage students to examine complexities from a higher vantage point – at the level of what we call our “attitudes” and our “being”. We’re learning from our students that this approach can be the source of new and radical solutions.
Sure, in some instances we must “stop the bleeding” before inquiring about the bigger questions. Immediately after cutting my thumb and index finger washing a butcher’s knife in the sink this morning, I didn’t stop to inquire about what attitude I could have adopted to avoid the cut. I literally had to stop the gushing blood with a makeshift band-aid.
The other concept that’s important to this conversation is the idea of U-Shaped Thinking. In the yoga lexicon this is very similar to sthira and sukha.
What we tend to see when we experience tension and stress in a certain area of a muscle, say the rotator cuff, is that pain or injury will be present. What we want to do is relieve pain by finding the optimal point where there’s only tension, and it’s evenly distributed to the scapula, creating stability.
When tension is distributed nicely, you don’t have to experience the debilitating impacts of stress. With this U-Shaped Thinking, at one end you have lots of stress, and at the other end you have lots of stability and safety. Mind Tribes’ core value of growth hinges on us finding the optimal space in between.
We can unconsciously sabotage our growth on the yoga mat by either grinding and grunting through our practice – taking every up-level, and moving at hyper-speed – or, often as a result of the former, hitting the proverbial wall and dropping to child’s pose.
Look at how many times this pattern rears its head in our personal or work relationships. Like the process described above, “taking child’s pose” in our relationships and commitments is when we leave the conversation, or when we kill off the communication all together. Here’s the key point: The magic of U-Shaped Thinking materializes in the diversity of choices between point A and point B.
So, in those areas of life where you’re resigned, or where you’re putting up with pain, can you choose another way? Can we discover a path toward the optimal point where we get to dance in the tension of ANY situation, yet not have to experience the suffering?
You might ask: “Sure…but what does this look like, practically, in my everyday life?” It might look like suspending your judgements, pausing, and then asking, “What’s really happening here?” It might look like picking up the phone, calling the other party (or parties) involved, and admitting, “I was wrong…and I’m sorry.”
Taking 100% responsibility for your impact and how your life goes takes courage. I acknowledge that. Taking brave and vulnerable action also doesn’t guarantee that the tension goes away, but it does breakdown the tyranny of our stories, habits, and our sense stimuli.
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About the author:
A full-time mover and teacher at heart, Dan Houston is known for his ability to blend movement principles with applied anatomy to produce dramatic results for his students. He is passionate about exploring human movement through yoga and mindfulness outside of the exercise paradigm. His primary lenses for practice and teaching are Vinyasa, Forrest, Pralaya Yoga, and his education and daily research in Movement & Health Studies.
Dan also has extensive experience adapting yoga for people from all walks of life, including for youth, incarcerated men, trauma-based practice for veterans with PTSD, for the homeless and displaced, and for elderly individuals. He enables his students to adopt whole-life movement solutions to provide access to an individualized, long-term, pain-free practice that embodies breath, awareness, range of motion, strength, and stability.
Dan is a co-founder and facilitator at Mind Tribes, a yoga-inspired personal and professional development brand that offers mindfulness training, coaching, and yoga teacher training programs. Dan and his wife, Cristina, also design and lead mindfulness and yoga teacher training for school teachers through their nonprofit, In-Powered by One Significant Act. He teaches public yoga classes at Pralaya Yoga Studio and In-Powered, in Houston, Texas.