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Week 3 of YTT: When You Realise that Balancing on Your Head is really about Balancing the Body and the Brain

Even though I’ve played a lot of sports – basketball, martial arts, skiing – yoga (and even more so, teaching yoga) is a whole new different game. When I was playing sports, my body just have to respond. When I was working, I sit behind a computer and use my brains, so the rest of my body doesn’t have to do anything.

Before I started YTT, yoga felt like just any other sports. There weren’t that much thinking involved – just follow the instructions and move the part of the body involved accordingly. When a pose seems impossible, I thought maybe my body is just not made for the pose. There was a huge disconnection between my body and my brain – my body moves, but my brain isn’t doing much and I never have to use both actively at the same time.

But as we understand more about each pose, our own body, how it feels and the purpose of each movement, things start to get complicated because here I am following the instructions and receiving more from my own brains telling me how I should adjust my body. On the other hand, a lot of poses also start to appear more accessible when your body and brain starts to talk to each other – you realise that there’s nothing wrong with your body; your brain just doesn’t know what to tell it.

It’s like learning how to go upside down at first. There are so many things to think about – at the beginning when I was a lot less aware, the whole body sometimes freezes because there are just too much information to process. I have to balance on my head, bring legs up, tuck my ribs in, keep shoulders away from ears, try not to break the mirror or fall and squash my classmate, etc. Without understanding your body and the purpose of each movement, a lot of these information are just noise – I hear and remember, but my body doesn’t know what my brain is telling it to do.

But as we learn more about each pose and how our body respond, and with a lot of practice, the brain now understands the information, so it learns to break down a pose into simpler individual equations that can be processed for your own body, and the body finally understands the instructions from the brains, rather than trying to solve a simultaneous equation that has multiple correlated or unknown variables making it a never-ending loop.

I struggled for a long time with headstands and pincha, only to realise that 1) the question I am solving may be different versus other classmates as my body is different so my solution has to be different, and 2) I could break down the pose into many little steps and counter steps to prevent previous mistakes instead of making my brain go crazy and trying to solve 50 equations simultaneously and the body tries to respond to all and end up twitching spastically.

Speaking of which, that’s still pretty much how I feel when learning to teach yoga. There’s so many things to think about while still having to move around – I have to observe, think about things to say, move my own body, try to move someone else’s body, and fight against my own natural shyness. The neurons in my brain are firing at all direction at the same time and it’s kind of insane – reminds me of the cartoon Inside Out and all the little personifications of my emotions are on fire and running around in panic.

But I do think with more understanding of how the body feels with each movement and pose, a lot of the instructions are beginning to feel like common sense instead of just trying to memorise all of the information word for word. I’m hoping with more practice, teaching yoga will be like balancing on my head – once the body and the brain starts to understand each other, the dots will naturally connect.