One of my primary intentions when teaching group classes is to provide ways for students to explore their body with curiosity. For me, this means I am always experimenting new ways of moving into, in, and between postures - and even after 18 years of practice I can say there is always something new to try.
One of the things that I have noticed in my own practice and in observing students during practice is the tendency to chase strong sensations.
Think back to when you walked into your first yoga class. You probably felt shy and uncomfortable as you looked around the room and wondered what to do and where to go — and that is even before the class officially started!
Then, perhaps the teacher asked you to sit still, close your eyes, and chant — which for me was really uncomfortable and foreign. From there, you probably moved into a variety of postures (maybe) using props you had never seen or heard of before. If your experience was like mine, you probably looked around the room at other students hoping that by trying to do what they were doing you would start to figure out what was going on.
All of these new experiences, movements, postures, and tools may have seemed overwhelming.
Chances are good that you also encountered really intense and strong sensations in your body as you explored a whole new range of movements and shapes. These sensations became a guide to what each posture was shifting in your body — perhaps into places that were new for you to engage or connect to.
It’s possible that this intensity sometimes shifted into pain, and hopefully you backed off to explore less sensation. It’s also possible that these sensations, while intense, had a pleasant nature to them that allowed you to feel parts of your structure that were getting stronger and more mobile.
Changes Over Time
As you stuck with your practice over time, you may have started to notice the discomfort, shyness, and uncertainty lessen. You started to feel more confidant in the shapes and noticed how you were stronger and more capable in the postures you practiced regularly.
Perhaps you started to practice more regularly and with more intricacy.
Your practice was evolving quickly and with noticeable changes in body, breath, and mind. One thing you may have noticed is that sensations started to feel significantly less intense, or perhaps to dissipate altogether.
It is at this point in the practice that I often times see well-meaning students chasing strong intensity (and have also caught myself in this pattern). There is a memory of how the intense sensations served a purpose early in your practice and opened doors to feeling more ease in body, breath, and mind.
Sensations Become Subtle
When you begin to feel the intensity of the postures soften this gives your nervous system and mind more time to explore the subtle.
I invite you to notice a full spectrum of sensations during your practice and your day.
What feels the most intense in this moment?
What feels the least intense in this moment?
Is there anything that I am unable to feel or connect to?
When answering these questions, look toward your physical body and at your emotions.
Your practice and your life will benefit by welcoming the subtle sensations. You might occasionally encounter strong sensation, but nothing is wrong if you don’t encounter intensity. If anything, this is a sign that your practice is deepening and you are able to notice more of what is happening beneath the surface.
Subtlety is Advanced
This subtly is advanced practice. It’s not fancy poses or handstands. It is the ability to connect to a full spectrum of sensations with awareness, curiosity, and compassion.
As the long-term journey of my practice evolves, I have come to see sensation as a spectrum. Can we allow ourselves to feel a full spectrum of sensations in the body as valuable? Can we acknowledge that our practice ebbs and flows over time?
Sometimes it will be slow, supported, and restorative. Other times it will be intense, fiery, and transformative. Welcome the full experience.
Feel all the feels.
It is challenging to embrace the full spectrum of “what is.” As yoga encourages us to dive into the body, mind, and spirit, we have the opportunity to encounter the light and the shadow. The challenge and the grace.
We are invited to feel all the feels.