Triangle as Teacher
Triangle as Teacher: Finding Your Inner Wisdom
I did it. I finally figured out triangle pose. As a yoga instructor for the last few years and as a practitioner for well over a decade, you may ask yourself why it’s taken me so long to understand what is considered a staple pose in any yoga practice… and that would be an excellent question.
For me, triangle was the epitome of confusion. The deeper I got into my practice, the more every alignment cue I’d ever heard about triangle confused me. But worse, triangle hurt. My sacrum hated this pose and the more I tried to figure it out, the more confusing it got. And the pain? That was the only thing that spoke clearly and consistently.
Today, I could give you all the alignment cues that have finally unlocked the beauty of the pose for me and have taken away the pain, but the most profound part of this discovery isn’t about that. It’s about finally understanding how triangle is supposed to be constructed in my own body.
Let me reiterate that last part. In my own body.
About a year ago I ran across an article by Leslie Kaminoff entitled “Asana’s Don’t Have Alignment” and that article drastically altered how I viewed a lot of things… both in my teaching and in my own practice. As a recovering perfectionist, I had never considered that perhaps there was something beyond ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. If the textbooks and my teachers all cued a certain pose a certain way, well that must be the way. Period.
As someone who has a propensity toward seeing things in either black or white, I’m starting to have a profound appreciation for all things grey.
About three years ago, I started to have consistent low back pain that plagued me both on and off the mat. The pain was chronic, overwhelming and well… painful. So much that, after trying to carefully work around it for a long period of time, it finally forced me off of my yoga mat altogether. It was around this same time that I had finished my teacher training and had begun to teach yoga, and as a result my own practice felt more vital than ever. But one thing was becoming clear: The yoga I preached as a healing panacea for all that ails you was for me, at that moment, anything but.
As time wore on it was clear what my body was trying to tell me: Stop. And so I finally did. And at that point the pain in my body was rivaled only by the pain of my emotion and psyche. I could no longer practice in the way that made me feel both grounded and free. In fact, I couldn’t practice at all… and worse, I felt like a hypocrite teaching something I wasn’t practicing.
It was at this juncture that my meditation practice moved to the forefront. I was comforted by delving into The Yoga Sutras again and by re-reading books like Autobiography of a Yogi… reading material that helped remind me that the true origins and practice of yoga had very little to do with the physical poses. My meditation practiced deepened and I found beautiful new layers previously undiscovered inside myself. I was practicing yoga in the truest sense of the word. And yet… as someone who has functioned on a highly physical level her entire life, I was having a terrible time letting go of the physical practice that had become such a huge part of who I was.
Every student who has had some sort of pain or injury has heard their teacher say “Injury is your greatest teacher.” In theory, I understood the concept well, but my practical, embodied experience was not catching on at all. From my current perspective, all I saw was a huge, painful impediment and it filled me with dismay.
But, as is often the case with discovering the beauty hidden inside a terrible situation, the silver lining frequently takes awhile to appear. So it’s no surprise that it took me three very long years to move through all the stages of pain and healing… denial, anger, grief, sadness, complacency, acceptance… and finally the most pivotal space of all: curiosity.
Perhaps even… intrigue.
I delved deeper and deeper into my spiritual practice off the mat, and in the process I learned a whole lot about myself. I learned just how solid and intact my ego was and how it manifested in a never-ending desire to push through and push down pain. I learned how my identification with my body and what it could perform, was everything to me. And this forced hiatus of a physical practice was the number one facilitator of going directly into those dark, ego-centric spaces in order to see what lay beyond.
Bit by bit, as I gave my body the long break it had been asking for, the pain slowly lessened. When things finally seemed to be healing solidly, I cautiously crept back onto my mat and consciously let go of all the old dogma. I learned new ways to breathe which was particularly transformative since I thought a decade of asana practice had already opened up that door as wide as it could go. I approached triangle and other poses I had stayed away from with intense curiosity about what was really, truly happening in my own body, what worked and what didn’t, and I learned to recognize the exact moment I lost that integrity of body or mind. I learned new ways of really FEELING what I was doing on the deepest level. I learned how to recognize when my ego was running the show and then to honor what my body was actually telling me instead.
About 6-9 months ago it became clear that my pain was primarily gone and that I was able to resume a full physical practice, mostly because I was paying attention in such a profoundly new way. Yoga had helped heal me on so many levels leading up to this, but with my finely tuned, performance-based ego still in tact, I hadn’t been able to find the healing for my body that I so desperately needed. Until now.
This wisdom of the body, I discovered, is the true nature of intuition. It is through the reflexive and subconscious response systems of the body that we are able to get to the heart and soul of what we really need. It is our deepest guidance, waiting for us beyond the reasoning of the mind.
We are told time and again that the answers are inside of us, if only we’d listen. In today’s culture of instantaneous information, the barrage and scope of opinion can be overwhelming in trying to find answers to difficult situations, both on and off the mat… and this can be extremely confusing. But we must remember that our deep intuition and knowledge embedded in our bodies is our best, most truthful teacher… if we are willing to listen to that truth. This is the difficult part, as the truth is often the very thing we’d rather not hear.
With great irony, I realized while I was busy feeling like a hypocrite for not being able to practice what I was teaching, it was actually by helping other people navigate through what felt right in their own bodies and teaching them how to uphold their own boundaries, that I was able to revisit my own body and boundaries with fresh eyes, new perspective and deeper understanding.
The universe is full of profound paradox, and wrapped up in our unique merging of contradictions lies the unique truth for our own individual being. You must be willing to seek that truth, be patient with the process, and listen intently to the surest guidance available: Your own wisdom.