In Support of Support
A recurring theme in my classes these days is on the notion of “support”. The idea that we need support can sometimes make us feel like we’re not good enough, like we’re inadequate or don’t have what it takes to be self-sufficient. Thinking about needing support can trigger memories of times when we were unsupported and were disappointed because our expectations weren’t met. We like reliability, certainty, and predictability, and relying on external support is just not all that predictable. We learn to become self-reliant and to not ask for help; to not seek support outside of ourselves.
We can find many examples of support in our Yoga practices. For example, the way we organizing our bodies in certain ways to achieve desired outcomes (mobility, strength, for example), to using props like a yoga block, to relying on the flat surface we stand, sit or lay upon, and gravity’s effect upon our body. Yoga Teachers also provide support in a yoga practice, through skillful sequencing, verbal cueing, and hands-on assists. In addition to the familiar kinds of support already described, Yoga Therapists support clients who are dealing with new or ongoing health challenges with personalized practices and lifestyle recommendations.
Personally, I am a big fan of deliberately using support in my practice. Support offers me the opportunity to experience a new perspective, one that arises because of the shift caused by the release into the support. For example, using a yoga block to raise the level of the floor in Triangle Pose provides a practical means of support that I can use to align my body so that is comfortable and I am at ease (sthira sukham), and I can hold the shape longer while attending to my breath. Without the prop, I may struggle to get into and hold the position and I would not be able to practice the pose with the same equanimity. Propping affords me the opportunity to experience the pose very differently and with greater freedom.
One of my favorite practices is Supreme Release Yoga, a restorative yoga practice that uses props to support the body in particular shapes to resolve spinal tension from the tailbone through the top of the neck. It’s a very subtle practice that requires learning to let go of deep patterns of tension throughout the body. As a practitioner of this method, I have been challenged by my own tendencies to be self-reliant, which manifested into tense, tight muscles that were resistant to release. I found I was holding on, internally, always prepared to act, to do, to take care of whatever needed to be taken care of. My body-mind was “over-efforting” in the attempt to control because, fundamentally, I didn’t trust in external support.
To be able to trust – someone or something – may be risky. It’s a conundrum – If we let down our guard to trust, we might be let down, but if we don’t, we may be forever trapped in our own prison of self-imposed tension, as I was before learning about my own trust issues. By learning to trust, leaning into support, I gained greater freedom in my body and mind, and feel liberated from life-long patterns of tension.
As I practice now, I keep coming back to the foundations of support, how I rely on them, and how important they are to our ability to experience deep transformative change, as I have found through yoga. As a yoga teacher and yoga therapist, I offer my support to my students and clients so you too can find greater freedom and comfort.
How about you? Is it easy for you to rest into external support, or is it hard for you? How do you find support, on and/or off your mat? How can you be a support for others?