A regular theme in my classes is ‘Yield and Push’. Through exploring this developmental movement pattern we are aiming for an embodied sense of good alignment in yoga asana that leads to a clear sense of good alignment from within, rather than lots of rules about ‘this bit going this way’ and ‘this bit going that way.’
Donna Farhi says ‘good alignment is a dynamic organisation of the body where there is a clear conduit for the movement of force through the body and beyond the body into space.’ When the clear conduit for the movement of force is embodied, we feel grounded, we move in a way that ensures the health of the joints and we can feel breath movement travelling through the body.
Last week we practised some exercises on the floor that evoked ‘navel radiation’ pattern in addition to ‘yield and push.’ We lay on our backs on blankets – on an inhalation we extended arms and legs out from centre; on an exhalation we curled up, drawing limbs in towards centre. After repeating this a few times we reversed the breathing – inhaling curling up and exhaling opening out. This feels very different. Curling up on the ‘in’ breath brings more breath into the back of the body and has a ‘containing’ feeling.
Next we changed the emphasis of the exercise so that initiation was from the feet instead of from centre. From arms and legs extended/opened out position, we flexed/curled up – beginning with the toes, then feet, then ankles, knees, hips, spine, shoulders, arms, hands, neck – simultaneously rolling over to one side. To open out again, we began extending the toes with a pushing action through the feet, ankles, knees, hips, etc. I put my hands to students’ feet to encourage flexion or extension of the feet.
We took this exploration further with the ‘Acorns to Oak Trees’ exercise. Everyone moved their blankets to the edge of the room, then curled up, lying on one side, feet to the skirting board and pushed from the feet so as to shoot across the floor. In this way we can feel the movement sequence gloriously through the legs and the rest of the body. This is a fun exercise and the guys always travel much further across the room than the girls. They have stronger, longer legs I guess, with perhaps a hint more competitiveness.
In other classes last week we experienced the ‘yield and push’ pattern in a quieter way. We worked in 3’s. The receiving person – A, lay down with arms and legs outstretched, then B had a hand to a foot and C had hands to A’s upper arm and shoulder – on the opposite side. B extended the leg a little out from the hip socket and then applied compression, to send force through centre and to the arm on the opposite side. C received the force and sent it back again. This simulates the falling of weight through the bones, sending movement through centre.
This was feedback from a ‘receiving person’ after the exercise: “ I feel as though I’m on the sea…. the waves are gently lapping…..I’m like a boat bobbing up and down.”
From time to time we practise an exercise in class that helps the movement of force be experienced more fully in standing poses. Students work in pairs. Person A takes Warrior 1 position (just the feet and legs) Person B kneels down in front of A and applies some pressure to A’s shin. The aim is that A will clearly feel the force travel all the way through the front leg, across the pelvis, through the back leg and into the back foot. ‘A’ will then do the same exercise with the other leg in front. (it’s sure to feel different)
I like Piera Nina Teatini’s words about yield and push in her piece ‘A Shooting Smile’ from ‘Exploring Body-Mind Centering’. She says: “Yield and push is more than a pattern, a metapattern – an attitude of relating to gravity that goes into it so fully (the yield phase) it can’t help but emerge to the other side, antigravity (the push phase).”
There is a lovely description of yielding by Susan Aposhyan in her book ‘Natural Intelligence’: “Yielding underlies our basic relationship to the world… Yielding is about just being in contact, not doing…..”