For all the self-exploration, physical exertion and other benefits of yoga, I’ve always felt there’s room in a class for a sprinkling of humor. Not necessarily Jerry Seinfeld trying out new material for a Netflix special, mind, but a pinch of levity is often welcome along our journey inside.
Lately I’ve opened my classes with a bit of a joke. After guiding the class into a comfortable seated position, I let the room know that we’re going to start with the hardest pose first. Naturally, this leads to a few puzzled looks before I deliver the punchline of “you’re already doing it.”
Sukhasana, the so-called “easy posture” of sitting cross-legged on the mat, is often a challenge for many students. As a teacher it’s easy to notice many yogis — both new and experienced — beginning to fidget or furrow their brows after a minute or two in a seated position. This becomes a challenge when leading a centering and pranayama experience before beginning the movement portion of the class. Five or six minutes of being seated might not seem like much for a teacher while planning out a class, but for many students it can feel like an eternity.
I’m thankful that during my 200-hour training both William Hufschmidt and Stacee Johnson made it a point of emphasis to encourage students to reposition their legs and/or shake them out after a few minutes in a static seated position. Granted, when we did this or talked about it in facilitation I never thought it it was that big of a deal — after all what’s so hard about sitting?
Turns out a lot.
We seldom pay much attention to the deep musculature that holds our torso upright. Nor do we think about keeping our spine elongated with natural curves if we’re behind the wheel of a car or sitting at our desk for a long period of time. As teachers we rarely consider that yoga derived from a culture in India based on sitting cross-legged where most people squat rather than sit upright in a chair.
Add all these varying factors up and, yeah, sitting cross-legged for more than a minute or two can be as challenging as any arm balance or inversion inside a given body. There’s a reason many students drift forward or back on their sitting bones or jut their chin out and up.
Fortunately, as teachers, we can work around the antsy physical sensation of sitting still with props — sit on a blanket, blocks, etc., to raise the pelvis — and verbal cues to fine tune the spinal alignment.
That’s the “easy” part.
As a society we’ve grown accustomed to the anticipation of what’s coming next, rather than being comfortable with what’s happening in the moment. Visual stimulus from phones and media bombard us every waking second, making sitting in silence a mental hurdle for many younger or newer students.
It’s our challenge as Pranakriya teachers to help students acknowledge the mental fidgeting or anxiousness that sitting may cause. Instead of running from it, as teachers we should help students notice this sensation and allow them over time to become comfortable with it.
And, on a practical level, it might not be a bad idea to remind students after centering and pranayama that they’ve already gotten through the hardest part of the class.