Stability vs. Expansion
Stability vs Expansion
“Let your stability create expansion. Never let your expansion steal from your stability.”
In my yoga teacher training we talked a lot about the stability of a pose vs. the expansion within that pose. This dichotomy is one of the key elements of any yoga practice, and metaphorically, for life… the stable, meticulously controlled foundation and grounding that is continually and consistently married with the equal and opposite freedom, space, extension and connection to something higher. This dichotomy was familiar given my dance background, although I admit that I had never before given it as much conscious thought as when it was being statically broken down this way, pose by pose.
During my dance career, this idea of stability vs expansion was a foundational premise too. In every position in every movement, the placement of every single body part was given great consideration… that was stability. But the expansion, that was the real meat and potatoes. The higher your leg, the wider your chest, the freedom expressed in your fingertips… these things mattered because their slightest alteration could and would change the entire aesthetic of the position.
This is one of the key areas (there are so many) where ballet and yoga diverge dramatically. In dance we had to know what every inch of our body was doing at every given moment, but the goal was to create the perfect visual aesthetic. In yoga, there are no mirrors and the only aesthetic is the one going on internally. In yoga, you are forced to feel what is happening. And while that is not the only consideration, it’s certainly the most important.
One of the most poignant things I heard during this part of my training was the quote above: “Let your stability create expansion. Never let your expansion steal from your stability.” That resonated so deeply and made such beautiful sense and yet there was this vague nudging at my insides… something about it that bothered me within the context of our learning, but that I couldn’t quite understand. During this particular part of the training, we focused on what is considered safe and unsafe, and the first place we looked was within our own poses. And here, I started to feel that I somehow needed to reign myself in… to find less freedom and focus on restraint. We were here after all, to learn how to teach others safely, and I took this very seriously.
Coming in to the training, I felt I had a strong practice, and it was humbling to have to break down every single thing I thought I knew, piece by piece, and reexamine it. And in doing so, I started to feel that much of how I practiced on my own mat was somehow ‘wrong’ even though there was considerable space for variation. However in the context of finding ‘perfect alignment’ I suddenly felt I was not aligned as properly as I thought I was. I had always thought my stability was creating my expansion, but perhaps my expansion was, in fact, stealing from my stability? I was confused.
Of course, I’m an over thinker. With hundreds of muscles in the body, each with their own task and each working in conjunction with countless other muscles and applied to the hundreds of yoga poses and their variations… well the room for over-processing is great, to say the least. But I was committed to going back to the basics. To reevaluating myself so I could become an even better student, and more importantly, a good teacher. And it was hard. But I was, if nothing else, re-learning to become unwavering and unshakable in my stability.
I just came from class with my most favorite teacher, and the epiphany hit hard (as they often do when you are in post-yoga clarity.) I realized why this particular teacher consistently helps me reach a place inside myself that I don’t get from any other teacher. And the answer is contained in one word: Expansion. The way she teaches… the methodology, the sequence, the analogies, the verbiage, the poses, they are all delivered in a way that, from the second I sit on my mat and start to breathe, reaches into the expansive space in my heart and cracks it wide open. Every pose feels larger and more expansive than the next, and I feel unlike I feel anywhere else in my life. I am high. From opening meditation to savasana, and every difficult sequence of poses in between, I am high on a freedom that is hard to put into words. There is so much clarity and beauty… and it’s not because my knees are perfectly aligned over my ankles (they are) or because my shoulder blades are perfectly engaged and pulled down my back (they are). It is because the nuances that come to me organically through my expansion connect me to that deeply imbedded source of freedom inside every single shape my body takes…. and my arms may as well be wings, because I feel as if I am flying.
And so the conclusion I’ve come to is this: If my arms are ‘out of alignment’ by textbook standard, if my lunge over-flexes my knee while my ribcage swells to release my chest toward the sky, fantastic! Because what I have realized is, in those moments in those classes with this teacher, my heart is in complete and utter alignment with the universe. And this… this is why I do yoga.
So no, I will not let my expansion steal from my stability. But I will never let my stability inhibit my expansion either… because that is theft, just the same. And as a new teacher, I vow to do my best to keep people safe. To help them find their stability. But what I really, really want, is to help people find the expansion that awaits them in their heart.