When I was a photography student in college, all of us freshmen had to use the same kind of basic camera and lens, a 35mm film camera with a 50mm fixed focal length lens. This is about as basic a camera as you can get. No fancy features, no bells and whistles.
I loved my first camera, a Pentax K-1000, a small, sturdy camera, a real workhorse, as they say. But I pretty quickly wanted to move on. By second semester I felt impatience creep in.
I jealously watched the sophomores haul around their large-format cameras, big and boxy, with ground glass instead of a viewfinder, and a dark cloth you’d hunch under, Ansel Adams-style. I wanted to shoot with a big camera too, to make prints with luscious detail from a 4x5 negative.
But the program wasn’t structured that way. Before I could get my hands on the expensive, finicky large-format camera, with the expensive, finicky film, I had to learn how to handle my basic little Pentax. But more importantly, I had to learn how to SEE.
Photography requires a great deal of technical acumen, but all the know-how in the world isn’t enough to make a beautiful picture if you don’t have an eye: for detail, for composition, for finding the decisive moment to snap the shutter.
In yoga it’s the same. We come to the practice, and for a while we’re satisfied with Downward Dog and Warrior Two, but pretty quickly we want more! The Instagram yogi trend feeds our obsession with One-Armed Handstand, Flying Pigeon, and Side Plank on the top of a building (guilty as charged.)
There’s nothing wrong with these poses, of course, and in fact, practicing “advanced” asanas can be a beautiful tool for self-exploration. But our fixation on MORE and HARDER poses is damaging to our practice if we’re always rushing to perform riskier poses without first being grounded in the basics.
In photography you need to learn how to see before approaching more complex techniques. In yoga, you must learn to LISTEN.
Ask yourself: Am I an attentive student, staying engaged and present despite distraction? Can I receive and incorporate individual instruction without defensiveness? Do I heed the cautions of my body when it tells me to back off or slow down? Have I learned how to really listen?
Once you’ve learned to listen, then most poses can be approached safely, because you’ll be paying attention: to the teacher, to your body, to your own inner voice.
Lesson One: Listen deeply.
If this is you, you might be a good fit for the next session of LEAPS+BOUNDS: Headstand. This four-week intensive will teach the basics of safely entering, holding, and exiting Headstand. It's gonna be FUN!!!