As Pablo Picasso once said, “ Learn the rules like a pro so you that you can break them like an artist."
Whether we are tackling a training session, venturing out on a vacation, or ordering off a restaurant menu, for most of us, our default setting is to strictly rely on the cues of others.
Take a workout. We purchase training plans and enlist the guidance of a personal trainer so that we can be told what to do and when to do it. "Firmly root your right foot down.” “Spread your weight all the way through the outer edges of your left foot." "Keep your gaze up towards your navel." " Lift off in 3, 2, 1...go!" We rely on the voices outside of ourselves.
Take traveling. Most of us hire travel planners and tour guides for very similar reasons. We want someone to create a schedule for us – perhaps so we don't have to do the thinking and research, but also out of fear that we may miss out on seeing something spectacular in that place. We rely on the voices outside of ourselves.
Before I proceed, I'd like to make one thing clear: I am not saying that we don't need knowledge, ideas, and guidance from others. I am saying this: you have a built-in guidance system, and you also have an untapped reservoir of strength and creativity. In collaboration with teachers and ideas, structure and inspiration, precedents and principles, your inner power to express yourself as you see fit can come to life.
In my final Conscious Analysis of this week, I'll be teaching you how to master your personal prowess for Flowing On Your Own (FOYO) in your movement practice and in life. These lessons are predicated on my intimate explorations with yoga as well as in my adventures traveling “solo” across the globe.
In a yoga class, flowing on your own looks like this…
The teacher takes you through the following: (1) warm-ups, where and you ignite the spirit of your breath; (2) movements to first mobilize your spine and hips and then stabilize them and ones to activate your core; (3) Sun Salutations A and B; and (4) then he or she adds on a few layers of asanas to flesh out a Sun Salutation C “flow.” Once he or she has coached you through one or two times, and you have grooved the moves into your mind with your motion, you are free to take out whatever doesn't feel right and add in whatever you feel is missing or you are inspired to add [Note: you are literally inspired. Inspiration = the drawing in of breath en route to being mentally stimulated. By sucking in more breath, you optimize your brain and body, awakening your intuition]. It is at this point precisely that the teacher has unhooked or unlatched you from his or her instruction and gives you permission to flow on your own.
I almost love nothing more than the feeling of flowing on my own. It breeds personal confidence, provides a channel for creativity to charge forth, and makes me feel so alive. How often is it in our lives that we take complete control of our decisions and exercise autonomy of our actions? The yoga mat is one place to practice this, and then we have the opportunity in our lives at large to exercise it again and again.
I consider my mat and certain poses, such as Downward Dog and Child's Pose, as my re-charging pad and points, respectively. Much like we plug our phones and tablets into a wall to replenish their battery and restore them to life, several deep breaths with my bandhas locked in these poses makes my prana (Life Force, Chi, Ki, Qi, Orgone) soar.
You see, movement is a physical art.
When you are on your mat (or whatever sufficiently grippy surface you can find--interesting read on the history of yoga mats here) – you are the chief artist. Time and space are your blank canvas, your hands and feet are the paint brushes, and your movements--with their one-of-a-kind colors, splatter the paint of your thoughts, feelings, and energy onto the moment.
When you are flowing on your own, there is no correct or incorrect. There is no legal or illegal, no allowed and prohibited. There is no right or wrong. What you choose to do is exactly what you are supposed to be doing. Laughter and play or not only acceptable, but encouraged. Breath flowing strong and ego tucked away, you have free range to explore. You can take roots and trunk of the flow--be they the basic asanas of Sun Salutations or through the lines of inhales and exhales (breath, first), and branch out.
Let's peer into my FOYO evolution and integration to get a better understanding of how it is done.
After performing hundreds upon hundreds of Sun Salutations with the standard asanas and sequencing of Ashtanga yoga, I started to experiment with the shapes, timing, and sequencing to meet my mental and emotional inclinations on that day. In other words, I started to let the flow take the shape of my mind and emotions, and let my mind and emotions shape the flow.
I value and enjoy the yogic elements of discipline and surrender, but I often crave feeling bold, empowered, and tenacious.
One way you can FOYO is within a single asana by turning rigid, textbook, and in line to rendition, totally you, and innovative.
Enter: Halfway Lifted Standing Forward Fold, Ardha Uttanasana (a basic pose in Sun Salutations)
When I am really feeling weak, insecure, stressed, or anxious, grabbing hold of the backside of my legs, arms hanging below, and thus, chest and heart more collapsed, doesn't help much. So when my body is in this emotional space, I love to make airplane, or gliding bird, arms, wherein I create as long of a wingspan as possible with my chest and heart lifted and open, imagining myself strongly soaring through the sky when I come to Ardha Uttanasana. This silhouette sets off a chain reaction--starting in my body and moving to my mind, that allows me to feel secure, equanimous and even-keeled, like a bird cruising hundreds of feet above sea level, owning the sky.
Another way you can FOYO is within a flow by adding in what your mind and body craves, and taking out what causes tension, clashing, and mind-body dissonance.
Enter: Star Pose, Utthita Tadasana.
Whenever I am flowing and I want an extra hit of confidence, I add in a Star Pose. Star Pose is one of what social psychologist Amy Cuddy calls a Power Pose. There are times I weave this pose into a flow as a transition from the front to the back of my mat (often times superset with a Kung fu squat). Other times, I simply insert this position as one of those recharging asanas I spoke of earlier. As a social function, power posing signals high status and ownership of your space. As a physiological function, power posing induces a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone, and an increase in testosterone, the confidence hormone. Hence, it brings me that feeling of boldness, power, and tenacity I often desire.
Other ways I may make myself feel bigger on the mat are extending through another big shape such as King Dancer (or as I like to call it, Queen Dancer ;P), Airplane Pose, or kicking up into a handstand.
In times when I am enjoying the ingredients already added into the mix, I may just modify them by playing with the intensity or starting shape. For example, pulling my heart further forward with my head up or bowing my head and letting my heart melts into my quads in Paschimottanasana (seated forward fold).
When I am craving more core work I may add in a anti-rotation move such as Revolved Airplane Pose.
And if I really need to give myself a cushion or buffer zone to just be, finding my way into Utthan Pristhasana (Lizard Pose) with my forehead bowing low is always a delicious option.
Honoring where you are, and playing the role of your doctor who prescribes your body with the most healing movement for you in that moment is an integral aspect of FOYO.
[Takes a swig of air through her nostrils as she circles her arms up to the sky, bends back, and gazing off her fingertips to prepare for a forward fold]
Taking a dive into my travels across the globe, when I was on a group trip in Israel in January 2017 (exactly one year ago), I applied this framework for following your intuition to my travel flow.
On day eight of this 10 day trip, I decided to break away from the expectations of myself and others, my self-limiting voice--which I could no longer discern whether was coming from within or without, and to blaze my own trail by traveling for the unforeseen future. To loosen those hampering beliefs by betting on myself with an active nod to my intuition. To channel my crippling doubt and anxiety into something constructive. I was following through on this gut feeling that I needed to see and travel the world to expand myself and come into my own.
It was a very spontaneous adventure that reflected my yoga practice. Much like I regularly visit how I feel at checkpoints during a yoga class, on each day and at each new destination, I reconnected with what it was I needed most, and honored that in my movement. At many points, FOYO meant continuing to ditch a plan and to create an itinerary as I went. Accordingly, when I went to a new city or country, the bus, train, or plane ticket was not bought until the day before or the day of. When I felt I needed rest, I stayed in my current city longer--Child's Pose. When I felt I needed a challenge, I explored new mountains, seas, and islands--Power Pose. When I felt I needed to surrender, I returned to the structure, guidance, and mental rest the Lonely Planet guide gave me to figure out what to do and where to go. I also talked to plenty of people to gather their recommendations.
On this adventure, the rules I learned like a pro were about how to live. Some of them were good and necessary, and others felt unfitting for my flow, like some asanas. So instead of trying to fit into a box or in between lines that didn't match my beliefs and ideas, I left them out and added in what felt right. And what felt right--true--to me was to not fear: unemployment, my clients being upset with me for leaving, my parents’ disapproval, feeling lonely, and feeling stuck (to name some prominent fears. All feelings and mere worries I had let morph into truths with no proof.
What felt right was to believe in myself, to water that tiny seed of unbreakable faith deep within with an adventure that would affirm to me that I am just fine.
I trusted that there was feeling of freedom and independence much greater than what I felt, but I was scared to take the leap of faith. I heard the little whispers from my gut saying “go.” Whispers that were first heard only when I became still and quiet enough to hear the directions of my internal GPS. Whispers that grew increasingly louder over the years to the point that I needed to take action or potentially suffer more (see second piece of this week’s Conscious Analysis). I just needed to break away from what I knew and what I had been taught was the way to ultimately follow my flow.
Now I want to give you the tools to flow on your own, in yoga and in life. I've broken it down into five simple steps, accompanied by their benefits.
How To Flow On Your Own In Yoga and Life:
1. Learn the basics.
Find a great teacher or a great book to give you the knowledge, ideas, and blueprint for mastering a specific skill. A resource that will give you the answers you need to get started.
2. Master the basics.
Practice, practice, practice. At first, follow the instructions like an A+ student.
The basics are ingrained in your mind and body now. Time to let creativity flow. This does not imply you stop reading from, listening to, or working with others; it simply means you integrate your intuition in your decision making).
In this phase, you may be scared. Listening for your own truth isn't easy, but know this: your intuition will set you free. It is here that you are turning on your internal GPS system.
Add in what you feel is missing and take out what doesn't feel right. Feel free to use the framework and moves you've learned from others to copy, paste, and edit. Two excellent resources extrapolating on this concept are Austin Kleon's Steal Like An Artist and Kirby Ferguson's Ted Talk, entitled "Embrace The Remix." The message: nothing is completely original. It is a version of something before it. My addendum: ...so don't let your ego--craving to create something brand spanking new or nothing at all, get in the way. Instead, be savvy. Build on the greatness others have already created.
It is here that you are calibrating your Tom-Tom (or insert your name and x2 with a hyphen).
"Repetition is the mother of all learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment."
The benefits of adopting a FOYO mindset and way of living has no limits, because how you do one thing is how you do everything. The only separation between yoga and life is the division we have made in our minds. Therefore, when you break free on your mat to honor your mind, body, and spirit, you are training to break free in your life to honor yourself totally as well.
The FOYO way of thinking and doing provides you a method for moving in alignment with your intuition, and with: certainty, creativity, enjoyment, and, most importantly, exercising free will and autonomy, as well as feeling free and independent, wherever and however you are.
Whether on my yoga mat or in taking my workout to a trek across the world, I flow on my own. Doing so through the means of yoga is a very cheap and accessible way to feel free and independent. Doing so by flying across the world, however, gave me a feeling of freedom and independence I had not yet experienced. I knew that freedom existed, and it was just waiting for me to say ‘hello’ with my actions.
Now it is time to detach from my lesson, and--you guessed it, Flow On Your Own.
Instead of solely following someone else's instructions, a non-specific blueprint for the general population, or waiting on someone to give you the green light, do this: tap your intuition, design your unique flow, lead the way (and your pack will follow), and give yourself the permission to go.
Nothing saddens me more than seeing someone else stuck in doubt, fear, and anxiety, and choosing to sink instead of swim. Waiting for a voice outside of them to say "it's OK" and "you can do it.” But, I know that sometimes we need to hear that. I get it. I was that person. And sometimes I fall back into being that person. And it is a yucky feeling. If that's you, then let my words be your green lights that fill you with the inspiration: "you may flow on your own."