Why we can't be trusted to feel

How many times have you heard ‘do what feels right’ in a yoga class? 

We say it too, and to some extent it’s useful. 

But there is this little problem: what feels ‘right’ is just whatever you are USED to doing.

That feels normal to you and new habits do not. Yes, your body will let you know if you are in immediate danger of traumatic injury but even that process is rather more complicated than we had previously thought.

Humans have a whole range of not-terribly-useful habits:

We shear our ribs, we stand off plumb, we hyperextend our joints. We sit all day and that makes our glutes far weaker than they should be, so then we overuse other kinetic chains like this one

These habits are our normal and they are what’s going to feel most natural to us.

And this is why we can’t really be trusted to feel.

I think one of the purposes of a yoga class - or any movement class - is to explore NEW ways of moving, different ways of feeling, and perhaps to understand better what those sensations you feel might be trying to tell you.

I have a student who habitually hyperextends her elbows (can’t judge her, I do it too). She always tells me that when they are at anatomical neutral, she just feels like she’s being lazy because there is no sensation. 

For her, as for me, the learning is in backing off from that sensation we get when we hyperextend our joints.

It’s tough to break a lifetime of habit but it’s worth it for a lot of reasons.

These two are the biggest for me:

One: just a small change to your suboptimal habits tends to have a very big effect on your wellbeing. We aren’t aiming for perfection, whatever that is, just improvement.

For me, it was a major coup to have Karen working on me and tell me that my pelvis is unrecognisably more stable than it was a few years ago. I know this, of course, because I don’t really get pain any more, but how nice to have an expert body worker confirm it! Squats did that, and learning to stand and walk better.

Two, and for me this is a biggie: learning new motor skills forges new neural pathways and the more you can do that as you age the more you are helping yourself to avoid or minimise brain degeneration.

There is no reason to stop learning as you age. As I said to our teacher trainees the other day, my experience of ageing has been one of becoming MORE physically capable and strong. True, I had a low base to start with, but I had dropped arches, and I no longer do. I had an unstable pelvis, and I no longer do. I wasn’t able to bear my own body weight, and now I can do plank for a loooooooong time. All these things were not there for me 15, 20 years ago.

So how about the next time you do yoga, you explore doing and feeling in different ways, and maybe if you are worried about doing things ‘right’ you let go of that a bit and celebrate that all ways of moving offer a learning experience?