In my teaching, I lean toward cues and instructions that are concrete, physical, don’t need to use your imagination sort of instructions. It’s not that I’m against this type of thing, it’s just not who I am. It’s not how I understand the world I live in.
Overall I tend to be a non “woo woo” type of person. This makes me a bit unique in the yoga world, since most of the teachers (and maybe even most of the students) I interact with are of the “woo woo” persuasion.
If you aren’t familiar with the term “woo,” let me ‘splain.
It’s the airy fairy stuff, the esoteric, the spiritual, the other worldly, can’t touch it with your fingers or study it in a lab, stuff. I’m more of a “show me,” a “has this been studied by actual scientists? Has the study been peer reviewed?” kind of girl.
I’ll never ask you to “blossom” or “spiral” or “brighten” anything. I won’t tell you to tap into your divine self. If you want to “offer” your yoga practice to end suffering in the world or as a prayer to whatever god or goddess you believe in, go for it!
I’m happy to let the woo be woo, as long I get to stay the cynical old crust that I am.
But every now and then, there are things that just don’t fit either category.
Even I’ve been known to say things like, “imagine a line of energy” moving through some part of your body. You’ll notice I say, “imagine,” because I’m not so sure about the reality of drawing energy out of the earth and pulling it up through your feet to the top of your head. BUT, I know that I can imagine it. And I know that when I do, something happens.
I feel something.
I experience something.
I’m not prepared to say that I actually drew anything anywhere. I’m more likely to explain it as a chemical phenomena in the brain itself, brought about by my visualization. It doesn’t really matter to me which is true.
What matters to me is that the experience itself is interesting and I can invite students to try and recreate the same experience in their own bodies.
I also use terminology and instructions like, breathing in through your chest, your ribs, and down into your belly, even though I think we all understand that the breath you breathe in goes into your lungs and stays there. You don’t actually breathe into your belly, but you can create an experience that feels like you are.
Why do I do this?
Because, quite simply, it elicits a positive shift in my mental and emotional state when I visualize some of these things. I could give you a pretty decent scientific explanation for why that is, but I’ll spare you more of my cynical ramblings.
This is a whole lot words to introduce an experience that I want you to try and recreate.
Recently, I was listening to a podcast where Kathryn Bruni-Young (a favorite of mine) was interviewing yoga legend Richard Freeman.***
(CLICK HERE to listen the entire podcast.)
At one point they were discussing the concept of breathing into your “kidney wings.” Apparently this is something that Richard commonly teaches. They didn’t go into how to do this, but I immediately started trying to do it.
I know where my kidneys are and I have often given the instruction to imagine breathing into your low back when in child’s pose, but I had never tried it in any other position. Could I breathe in such a way to find those “kidney wings?”
And I loved it!
I interpreted "spreading the kidney wings" as expanding across the lower back. When we practice belly breathing we tend to focus on the front of the body (obviously, since this is where the belly is), but the torso is a cylinder - front, back, top, bottom, and sides. It makes sense that if you could expand the front, you could expand the sides and/or the back.
The Audio recording below will take you through a series of different positions to experiment with finding your kidney wings and letting them unfurl, so to speak.
*** While I am familiar with Richard Freeman (it’s hard to live long in the yogasphere and not know who he is!), I am not a student of his and I don’t have any experience practicing with him. I say this so you will understand that everything described herein is entirely my own interpretation of a very brief interchange and should not be associated with Mr. Freeman. I don’t wish to sully his name by having you confuse his teachings with my experiments!
** I went into a lot of hooha at the beginning of this post about how I’m not into the woo, however, I do know that breath is magical, some might say spiritual. In the Bible, Yahweh gives life to man by breathing into him. Sharing his breath, so to speak.
The concepts of breath, spirit and life itself are interwoven throughout the Christian scriptures. Wind is a common element of many religions and cultures.
So…. if you embrace the “woo” this is great place to let it out. I’m not a good guide in that realm, so I won’t attempt to lead you anywhere, but I don’t wish to discourage you either. As you breathe, see what comes up. See what thoughts and images arise. Use them however you are moved to do so.