I hated my first yoga class.
Almost 30 years ago, in a small Upper West Side studio, I was one of three people attending class and the only one who was both new to the practice of yoga and who also didn’t know the others in the room. Not only did I feel like an outsider, I also felt like a stranger to my body and unsure of how to establish the relationship with it that the instructor was suggesting.
And yet, somehow, something inside encouraged me to give the practice of yoga another shot - elsewhere and with a friend, the next time.
And thus my yoga journey has continued onward from there.
In the time since, my studies, practice and orientation to teaching have been informed by my takeaways from that first class.
I continually reflect on what it means to be welcoming and to be as clear as I can when offering fellow students a path inward. Simultaneously, I have tried to remain aware that, in the end, what leads a person forward is something beyond me.
Though I have enhanced my body awareness over time, my early struggles with asana have felt like a gift that keeps on giving, as it continually allows me to relate to others who feel similarly challenged to embrace their structural norms and/or their still refining sensory-motor awareness.
Long ago, I let go of the need to “present” perfect form; I was quick to embrace instruction to feel the breath and the experience of moving from the inside out, without regard to how you looked.
And yet, when I first began to orient my teaching towards encouraging people to move freely and confidently and to take whatever liberties they needed to do that, it was with the orientation to make things “better” or at least “not so bad.” Within that “fix-it” approach was a resistance to embrace what “now” was offering.
I hope that my current approach skews more towards inviting discovery and exploration.
The PostureTweak orientation that I bring to asana has its origins in the Viniyoga teachings (I completed my 500-hour training with Gary Kraftsow) and in the fellowship I completed in Applied Functional Science with Doctors Gary Gray and David Tiberio at the Gray Institute. Subsequent studies with senior faculty at the Himalayan Institute have refined this approach even further.
Among the many powerful takeaways from my time at the Gray Institute was the encouragement to ask each joint/complex what it needed and what it liked to do in order to be successful.
On the one hand, taking up that joint-by-joint conversation has shifted my sensory motor awareness and facilitated greater stability and ease in how I experience my body, but more than that, it has refined my appreciation for the energy (prana) within those joint spaces and of the broader space which holds me.
At the Gray Institute, I was surrounded by physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers whose bread and butter was working with professional and high performing college athletes. For these elites, refining their awareness of how the subtalar joint functioned (which is the space between the saddle-like bone called the talus and the horse it rides on, the heel bone, or the calcaneus) was the difference between their patient, client or athlete successfully refining their golf swing, their cut to the basket, their curve ball or how they lifted their grandchild… or not.
And, of course, all of those are wonderful objectives. And yet, to this day, Gary still marvels that what drives my interest in his work isn’t its ability to stretch or workout my students in smarter ways, but rather, that I’ve found in it, a pathway to something both incredibly subtle and also deeply profound.
I am honored for the chance to share this approach with you. Our experience will consist of both a joint-by-joint exploration in which we ask our joints what they need and what they like and also a practice which integrates some takeaways from that investigation. There will be time for your reflections and questions, too. And naturally, we will begin with “hello… and welcome.”
Al Bingham founded Encourage in 2013. He has been teaching yoga since 1995. Al has co-authored two books published by Random House, has been featured on the Yoga Zone DVDs, and develops yoga classes and programs for yoga studios, clinical settings and corporate environments. Al received his yoga training though Alan Finger (Yoga Zone) and Gary Kraftsow (American Viniyoga Institute). Al is also a 2011 Fellow of Applied Functional Science via the Gray Institute and a 1992 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, Al studies with the senior faculty of the Himalayan Institute and is a Certified Vishoka Meditation® Teacher. Al and his family live in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.