Essential Skills for Students of Yoga / by Dustin McCallister

With this series, I’ll attempt to introduce concepts that I think are fundamental for serious students of alignment-based yoga. I hope that these ideas help you deepen your class experiences!

Moving Without Seeing

Proprioception, your sense of your own body in space, is generally improved as students advance in their study of yoga. Eventually, proprioception is a necessary skill for movements in advanced postures (how will you grab your foot when you can’t see it? You’ll have to feel it). As your sense of your own body in space is improved, you can expand that skill to map out the space around you as well.

Like any skill, one of the best ways to develop is to challenge it. A few fun exercises to try with your eyes closed:

Use your non-dominant-hand’s 4th finger to touch your nose
Touch one thumb to the other hand’s pinky behind your back
Pinch your left earlobe with your right thumb and forefinger

You may surprise yourself with how adept you are at those movements. We have a more-robust sense of our hands in space than our other extremities.

In your yoga classes, you can develop and refine your proprioception first just by adding awareness, and then removing visual cues. For example, when you stand in tadasana (mountain pose), start paying absurdly close attention to making your feet even: line up your big toes or your heels (even consider using the edge of your mat for the straight line!), match the turn of your feet so they are perfectly even, etc. Take that same awareness into prasarita padottanasana (wide-legged intense stretch pose): line up your feet, match the turn, etc. After some time of making these adjustments using your eyes, attempt placing your feet without looking at them, then double check by looking. By doing so, you’ll start noticing how it feels to be even, what your tendencies are and how to adjust them, and you’ll start to spread your mind and awareness through your body.

Once you have a good map of your body in space, try moving that awareness into a map of the space and things around you in relation to your body. You could try entering utthita trikonasana (extended triangle pose) using a block under your lower hand without looking at the block as you place your hand. A much more challenging version of the same exercise would be entering ardha chandrasana (half moon pose) from tadasana, using a block under the lower hand, and again placing your hand on the pre-placed block without looking at it (of course, that would require a well-placed block).

With attentive work, you might find some fun results from a more-refined sense of self in space and map of the space around you. When I am disciplined in my own yoga practice, I find myself less likely to trip, less likely to run into things, and less likely to knock things over. And, when I DO knock things over, I sometimes make what feel like ninja-level saves and then feel like a superstar. And yoga skills or not, who doesn’t want to feel ninja-level adept once in a while?

by Dustin McCallister

Dustin McCallister Yoga