Foundations of Humanist Yoga
So, sensations we can notice as we practice yoga postures are things like...
When we work consistently with the body, it changes. Our muscles grow stronger. Our range of movement increases. But lengthening and strengthening muscles aren't the aim of our practice at Lotus Leaf. They’re just agreeable side effects.
Here, we're more interested in paying attention to ourselves rather like our ancient ancestors would have had to in order to survive.
Imagine a hunter gatherer, moving calmly and smoothly through the natural environment, listening. To stay safe and approach prey, they tread softly, so as not to draw attention to themselves. They have a keen sense of embodiment. Their senses are awake. They're alert, present and responsive.
The 'hunter gatherer sense' we're trying to cultivate - through play really - is quite different to a standard exercise approach. There's no call to frown in rigid concentration, as you dutifully attempt to perform a movement to a certain standard, squeezing yourself into someone else's idea of how you should be. You can practice this idea, like a child's game, in class and as you step off your mat and into your week.
This approach to yoga is sometimes referred to as a ‘bottom up approach’ - as opposed to a ‘top down’ one. Bottom up processing describes the way an organism responds to its environment through its senses. In its simplest form, it's drinking water when you're thirsty, or resting when you're tired. To do these simple things we first have to notice how we actually feel. Then we respond intelligently to our feelings, in order to feel comfortable again.
The bottom up approach to yoga a marks a distinct shift away from the exercise approach, peppered with basic eastern philosophy, which is so popular in mainstream modern yoga practice. This approach has more in common with western systems, like the Alexander technique, the Feldenkrais Method and Somatics.
Practicing yoga with a bottom up approach places less emphasis on stretching and strengthening the muscles and fascia of the body. And more emphasis on working with the nervous system. Because it’s in the functioning of the nervous system that it seems most of our problems - and consequently our solutions - lie.
The humanist approach to yoga also encompasses a serious attempt to integrate our senses in different spheres. We begin by heightening our sensory awareness of our own body, mind and heart. The next question we ask ourselves is how can we expand this special kind of awareness into our relationships with our fellow humans? With our local community? And with our social and natural environment?
Week two - Notes on our sense of hearing
I've absorbed these ideas & approaches from Peter Blackaby's wonderful book 'Intelligent Yoga' - available on Amazon.