Several years in to what I confidently believed was a solid yoga practice, I started all over, from scratch, because one very good teacher told me one very obvious thing: "If you want to be a master, then master the basics." Having studied and taught for several years at the time, I assumed I knew how to do and lead the basics, and then some. But in a class with master teacher Aadil Palkhivala, he led tadasana (that’s just standing up, if you aren’t familiar with the Sanskrit name), and my true level of understanding became immediately, painfully clear. I really did not know the basic concepts of the posture (so I certainly wasn’t teaching them), and beyond remaining upright on two feet, I did not have the fundamental skills required for a wise expression of the pose.
Yes, tadasana. (Hey, it's more complicated than it seems!)
"Gentlemen, this is a football."
-Vince Lombardi, to the Green Bay Packers
That moment of clarity was a humbling experience and a big wakeup call. I knew I couldn’t continue to teach as I was, because I was only spreading my essential lack of knowing into the world. So, I put aside my bruised ego and spent two years and 2000 hours studying the basics with Aadil, and for a decade now I have continued to work on fundamental refinements in my practice, as well as in my renewed teaching. I also study with Aadil on a regular basis. Refinement never ends; it only gets more interesting.
"Success is neither magical nor mysterious. Success is the natural consequence of consistently applying the basic fundamentals."
- Jim Rhone, one of America's foremost business philosophers
Of course, gaps in foundational knowledge are not unique to me, and are almost guaranteed in our world of drop in classes. Most everyone, regardless of his or her level of practice or education, can use a primer (or refresher) on the basics. Personally, I love this information. I love to work on it. I love to teach it. I love to discuss the ins-and-outs of it with practitioners of different traditions. So, in upcoming blog posts, I am going to start a conversation on the fundamentals of the standard repertoire of basic poses.
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.
Why this dialogue is important:
- Safety: the fundamental skills are often the ones that create safety. As the complexity of poses increases, the safety risk does as well. If the basics aren’t engrained, we dramatically increase our risk of injury over time.
- Progress: we live in a world of drop in yoga classes. While that system has a lot of practical advantages, it doesn’t promote a full complement of basic information. Nobody goes to grammar school only when convenient and then expects to get in to college. The blog column will be a consistent resource of time-tested information to get you thinking and to get a dialogue started.
- Awareness: mastering the basics is all about refinement of fundamental actions. Refinement moves the consciousness deeper into the body, which is an essential step in deepening self-awareness. Self-awareness is, in turn, absolutely necessary for any positive change in any area of life.
- Perspective: when we change the definition of progress from acquiring more advanced postures to refining the most important actions in the basic repertoire, we move from achievement to exploration. Exploration happens in the present moment only, whereas achievement is always about the future, and thereby pulls us away from ourselves.
To join the conversation:
Leave a comment below if there are any specific postures or concepts you want the column to address. You will have an opportunity with each column to chime in with questions, comments, or observations. Stay abreast of new column postings in any of these ways:
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See you on the mat!