I remember hearing Kiki say these words in one of my first Forrest yoga classes: "Sometimes you have to downlevel to uplevel."
I didn't really believe it was okay to "downlevel" - to modify a pose so that it's easier for your body. I felt embarrassed, thinking I 'should' be able to do what everybody else seemed to be doing. She would also say 'Stop struggling!' - usually directed at me - and I'd wonder how can I possibly do what you're asking me to do and not struggle!
Aviva was often Kiki's assistant back then, and quietly she guided me to make some downlevel adjustments for myself, but I wasn't quite convinced until Aviva took class one day and was on a mat nearby. I looked over and saw her blatantly downleveling ... putting a block under her sacrum in bridge, her feet on the wall in abs.... She was moving slowly and methodically, eyes closed, deep in her practice. She wasn't even waiting until Kiki was facing in the other direction to furtively slide out of a pose for a resting breath as I had so often done. She was deliberately doing less when I knew she was 'capable' of doing much more!
What a revelation! It finally sunk in.
And so I began the mindful path of the yoga downlevel.... paying exquisite attention to my body and how I actually felt in each moment, in each class. I worked with my mind to release the ego desires to accomplish or get better with each class. I was amazed by how I would not be able to do something one day, be able to do it the next, and then not be able to do it again. I heard the stories of teachers talking about their challenges with poses and discovered this was a common experience. I started asking every teacher to suggest downlevels for all of my many injured places, for every pose that felt like a struggle, and for every tweak that was not yet an injury. I was on the hunt for a way to do poses that felt good and strengthening, with no stress or struggle.
The amazing thing was, the more I did this, the faster my body strengthened and aligned. Often as I began to do the pose in my simpler, modified way, a newfound level of strength and flexibility would magically appear and the uplevel version would simply happen. It was like my tenderly cared for body was giving me this gift because it simply felt great. This was the next indicated movement.
I began to think about how yoga was created, imagining people stretching out in ways that felt good, and the more they did it the more their bodies craved more. They didn't start out imagining a pretzel and then figuring out how to force themselves into it.
I love teaching Stellarflow Therapeutics because this is the class where the philosophy of downleveling thrives. In Stellarflow Therapeutics we are slowing things down enough that each of you can really FEEL your body and be supported in devising your own unique downlevels. Maybe you need modifications just for one class, or maybe you need ongoing adjustments simply for the way your own body mechanics work. Each body is different. Each day is different. And taking the time to figure out what your body needs allows your body to heal and strengthen. It also teaches you to give permission to yourself to slow down and figure out what you need in every area of your life.
In this way Spirit thrives through your body. Joy and pleasure become attainable every day because you have slowed down and felt what your body needs in the moment. And that, truly, is the heart and spirit of yoga.