I remember during my first trip to Pune in 2011, Prashant Iyengar (not uncharacteristically) talked a lot about understanding the why, not just the how or what of each asana. He instructed us to identify the governor of the pose and would ask, “are you doing this pose from the hip, from the foot, etc. or, are you doing this pose for the hip, for the foot, etc.”? (I remember that he even asked us to do bharadvajasana for the diaphragm, which intellectually I thought was near impossible but sure enough, experientially, was super cool 🙂
I find this concept – having a governor for each asana, to be powerful and extremely insightful. Because of my history with back pain I have always needed to carry what I would refer to as the lens of back-care into each asana. Regardless of what my teacher is focusing on, I always need to have that lens of back-care guiding my movements. If I don’t, because of my inherent vulnerability, I can really hurt myself. It struck me that my ‘lens’ and Prashant’s ‘governor’, were in fact, similar concepts.
Why am I writing about this? Well, for a couple of reasons…
I recently launched a free, email course about cultivating and sustaining a home yoga practice. In the course, we look at some of the challenges that people face when approaching their mats and then explore ways to overcome them. One of my goals for the course is to convey the difference between ‘a sequence’ and ‘a practice’ and the value of personalizing (aka customizing) your yoga practice.
The truth is, it would have been easy for me to put together a dozen or so sequences and offer them up as a program for home practice. But…would that empower students to develop their own personal practice??? Sure, they could go through the program and likely receive benefit from doing so but how would they know if it’s the ‘right’ practice for them, on any particular day? What I attempted to do instead, is offer tools for students to develop a home practice that responds to their specific needs. Which brings me back…almost….to the governor….
From the course feedback I’ve been getting, a common challenge that students face in their home practice is figuring out what to practice. Alongside the other tips and techniques that are mentioned in the course, I’ve been thinking that this concept of ‘governor’ can provide much needed guidance. What do you think? Would you be willing to test it out for me?
If you are game, the next time you practice please try this:
- Instead of asking yourself ‘what asanas should I practice today?’, ask yourself, ‘which governor would I like to elect?’.
- Then, allow your answer to inform the asanas you choose to practice.
- Then, if you want to spice things up a bit, during the following practice repeat those SAME ASANAS but with a DIFFERENT GOVERNOR in mind (HINT: this may mean you do a different presentation(s) of the pose(s), but the same asana sequence).
I’d love(!) to know if thinking along these lines is helpful to you in developing a sequence of poses to practice. Please leave your comments in the section below, or send me an email.
Another reason I’ve been thinking about ‘the governor’ is because I’ve been getting a number of inquiries lately from students wishing to learn a specialized ‘back-care’ practice. There are certainly sequences that I do to care for my back (and that I love teaching to others!), however, those practices are very often made up of asanas that are routinely taught in regular classes. Unlikely that a beginner student could do this, but students who have a bit of experience could develop the sensitivity (= that inner governor!) to care for their back in the context of a regular practice. Inevitably, a practice will need to be different for someone who is managing an occasionally cranky back versus someone who is in the throws of chronic and debilitating pain, but having said that, I think it’s important to understand that ‘yoga for your back’ is ultimately just yoga. It’s all the same…it’s about the governor!
If you would like an example of what my personally-elected, back-care governor 🙂 has taught me, please enter your information below and download my free, 1-page resource: Yoga for Healthy Backs – 5 Key Principles.
Namaste (& happy practicing!),
My governor over the past few months is my feet. I suffered a foot injury that has caused me to become very focused on correct action in my feet because the slightest loss of attention results in pain. I think governors are often elected because of pain!