Practice by Aretha Blevins
I did not enjoy my first year of piano lessons. My first months of practice were consumed with scales. Bleh. My piano teacher was warm and friendly, but learning scales was not. They were boring. My hands moved awkwardly and I could not hear anything but the clunking of one sound as it barged into the next. Fluidity came slowly and with great effort.
When my piano teacher finally added a small tune to my practice, I was thrilled to play a ‘real’ melody. Much to my irritation however, my piano teacher began each lesson with scales and assigned them as part of my practice each week. I had little understanding that the learning of scales was preparing in me a foundation to learn much more interesting and complex melodies. I realize only now what my piano teacher was doing. I had no clue then and I was a reluctant and sometimes neglectful student. I wish I had been a more dedicated student! I admittedly gave up piano lessons after some years which I greatly regret.
One of the gifts that I have retained, however, is an appreciation for practice and a view of the unique chemistry between the body and the mind. Often when I forgot a part of my recital piece, if I closed my eyes, my hand would remember where to go. My fingers had a memory too!
The learning of foundational postures in yoga is very much like the learning of scales and the playing of our very first melody. Through steady repetition in foundational postures and dedicated practice, our body begins over time to move with more understanding. We find grace and fluidity in our movements. On good practice days, we may experience a first melody. In this melody we find that our mind is at work, but equally at work is a cellular and instinctive intelligence alive even in our littlest toe. A rhythm between mind and body has been struck!
The foundational postures are the great beginning to this rhythm. They teach us how to move the major joints of the body safely and intelligently. They work to lubricate the joints and muscle fibers, to build strength, stamina, and balance. It is here that we learn to dissect and train each part of the body so that it knows how to play when it is called on later. And in time, with practice, each part of our body learns not only to play, but to play in harmony. This beginning stage of learning asana is remarkably important.
Even as we become a more seasoned student of yoga, it is the foundational postures that we return to over and over to prepare and ready our body for more advanced poses, just as a seasoned musician uses scales to ready for a performance. A practice does not pass by for me that doesn’t incorporate foundational poses. They are the intelligent framework of all poses. It is sometimes hard to embrace beginnings as learning something new can be awkward and humbling. It is true however that good beginnings are integral for later success.
The Bhagavad Gita defines yoga as ‘skill in action’. Taking this to heart, we encourage all students to begin their practice from the humble, but profoundly intelligent and important beginnings of a Level 1 class. The learning of foundational poses is a rich experience in itself.