by Julia Febiger
Recently, my practice got turned on its head (or sirsasana, if you will). I applied for the Mala Teacher Training (MTT) program, and have been thinking about yoga in a hundred and eight more ways since. On my mind is the concept of how certain worlds can seem inaccessible at first, but such worlds become more accessible when we are given the right tools. My inspirational source du jour: an article on wine that I read years ago.
The article was written from the perspective of someone who was initiated into what had previously seemed like an elusive world of wine. As the story unfolded, the author was given a lesson during which he was taught how to pay attention to few particular tastes, and then name the resulting soporific sensation. If memory serves, the crux of the article was the author’s realization that wine connoisseurs aren’t intending to be intimidating with their esoteric language and exceedingly strange capacity to point out a slight boysenberry finish where no one else would find one. The point was that wine connoisseurs have had to acquire the ability to differentiate and articulate taste.
As part of the MTT, we have been learning the names for the muscles and the bones that allow our bodies to move into the asanas, or poses. If you practice at Mala, you might be familiar with some of these terms as well. For example, I thought that I knew what my greater trochanter was because my teachers talk about it all of the time. The truth was that I knew its general vicinity, lurking near my outer hip. Then, I opened my MTT manual and there it was, on page 54: my greater trochanter (and yours) sitting on top of the femur, or thigh, bone. As it turns out, it is an attachment site for several gluteal muscles; and here I was thinking it was something like the Milky Way. Now, the instructions make even more sense. I can picture the drawing in the manual, spell its anatomical name, and feel where it corresponds in my body.
In the world of education, there is a term called scaffolding. Scaffolding is a construct that describes the ongoing support provided to a learner by an expert. Last time I checked, knowing the difference between wine aged in French oak versus American oak was not based solely on intuition, or instinct. Oenophiles aren’t born knowing what tannin is, nor what it tastes like. At some point, they were taught. From there, they have had to develop their taste buds and train their tongues. Just as a wine connoisseur may begin by learning the difference between white and red, a yogi can begin by learning right from left. If we’re lucky, we encounter good teachers along the way who can help us fill our tool belts so that we can go to where we haven’t yet been. In a sense, then, our yogic understanding is kind of like a glass of wine: full of subtleties just waiting to be discovered.