You cannot make or have experience for somebody else. You can, however, pay good attention to somebody else's experience, or interpret or discover the meaning of experience together, and in the process you might learn more about your own experience and what it means to be in a body. As narrators sharing words about the psychology of fiction and narrative in virtual space, it is easy to interact without paying adequate attention to embodied experience--and as such disembodied habit becomes reinforced, sharing the experience of ourselves in bodies can be challenging. As we interact with each others' narrative personae in this disembodied space, it also becomes easier to generalize from our own experiences--and to unintentionally discount others' experiences by assuming they should follow the patterns of our own. Because food is what I am often writing about, I get to cheat in some ways: writing about eating invokes bodily experience. But especially because food is the focus of my work, I sometimes want non-food methods for getting people to pay attention to their inward experience and to think and feel from inside their bodies. Toward this end, I have spent a significant part of the past year studying the teaching of yoga, and particularly teaching yoga in a way that makes it accessible to everyone. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the intensive workshop I have just completed has confirmed my suspicions about the radical potential of increasing access to embodied experience.
I’m a nerd, so perhaps also unsurprisingly, yoga is something I discovered through books. This is a particularly good place to start my yoga story as I am just on my way back from the first ever reunion of my secondary school class, an event where I was able to visit the place where my fifteen year old self startled the school librarian trying out lion pose on the library desk. This was, perhaps, an auspicious start for bringing yoga into unexpected places.
The teaching of some accessible movements that helped people feel the inside of what they were experiencing and connect to the inside of their peers’ experience have provided some of the most effective strategies I’ve experienced for helping people to grapple with working through challenging and uncomfortable topics, such as at the recent Food Justice conference in Minneapolis, where the Movement Center for Deep Democracy led us through movements designed to help us feel and process profound and difficult truths about the inequities that need to be healed in the systems that bring us our food, and to focus more successfully on the dreams and disturbances we embody as we attempt to do that work.
Most of my professional work around food and agriculture involves getting people to experience each other’s perspectives to be able to better engage their expertises and challenges, so this is where I strive to bring the practice of yoga, and especially the focus on experiencing inward space that Matt Sanford of Mind Body Solutions (MBS) brings in adapting the practice of yoga. I share, below, the core stories of his introduction to opening yoga to everyone’s embodied experience, but first I want to connect the emphasis Matt brings to space to the attention paid to society and space by three other communities of practice: geography, social practice art, and educational equity.
Social and cultural geography investigate how relationships function in space and how social-spatial relationships can be reproduced more equitably and the core of social practice art has to do with creative collaboration to address social problems in space. The cognate program to MBS represented in my necklace (pictured here and with Amy Samson-Burke’s awesome and propful adaptive yoga class below) is the Peer Alliance for Gender Equity, a program I help out with run by the Professional Development team of the Science Museum of Minnesota. Using STEM learning related to topics like food and agriculture as entry points to transforming the nature of education to be more equitable, this program has just launched a fourth cohort of K-12 teachers across the upper Midwest (and nation) who are dedicated to opening education to the experience of all learners. (The first three yearly cohorts are represented by the trade beads hanging with my MindBody necklace.)
As I think about ways to cross-link the leadership and learning stories of my communities—in education, art, agri-food, and yoga—and to mix up their networks of support and exploration, I am sustained by the shared and transformative commitment to equity across these communities. When everyone is asked to engage everyone’s experience, this active sharing helps reveal different experiences and strategies for engaging them that enrich us all—at least in part because taking everybody’s experience seriously seriously calls into question the many ways our current arrangement of social spaces leaves most people out.
For further exploration of engaging more experimentally, explicitly, and equitably with everybody’s embodied experience, follow Matt’s blog, where he chronicles insights from his daily yoga practice, which he defines as “the time I take to feel and refine the sensation of my existence.”
1.1 Asana needs a center of gravity and a sense of direction.
1.2 Adjustments need not to correct but to reveal sensation.
1.3 Don’t take power away from students by correcting.
1.4 The dynamic you create with students is more important than all the poses you know.
1.5 Insight is shared not taught.
1.6 Don’t try to figure everything out; let your body feel more.
1.7 Yoga is facilitated by sitting in presence and believing.
1.8 Yoga is taught through relationships: experiential, dynamic.
1.9 If you think yoga is taught through what’s in your head, you will do violence.
1.10 The impulse to do service and to give is beautiful, but it is not without cost. Healthcare is done to people, not with them. Instead, be with people. Locate in the presence without fixing. Until you realize who, what, or why you’re trying to save—or when—until you are able to identify your story, you’re going to be afraid of my suffering and try to intercede in my suffering too quickly and end up disempowering me. People often turn helping others into power, and you don’t want to do that, to turn people more passive.
2.1 This is sacred work. If you can’t transform your own vulnerability, you aren’t in, and you take away from me.
2.2 Learn the skill of getting into other people’s stories. This relates to willingness to be present to your own sadness. (“Learn how to listen someone into speech.” – Parker Palmer)
2.3 Bring meaning and purpose to everything.
2.4 Support meaning-making around suffering, including that of invisible injuries such as those of the families of disabled people.
2.5 Openness is your best boundary—do not give that away. Trying to fix people tries to give that away.
2.6 How do you teach inward movement? Not just the ways you learned it, but figuring out where you’re heading to and getting there from wherever you are. This is the key to adapting yoga. You’re teaching the sensation; try it, see where you get. Connect where you’re acting and feeling consequence or reaction to adjustment—which requires a different form of listening: inward awareness. As soon as you have to feel, rather than do, you are forced into inward awareness. Note the things that interrupt inward awareness. Inward awareness has more space; it is not about focusing attention, but rather about letting something be true.
Numbered lines above from my notes on Matthew Sanford's instructions in the July 14-18, 2014 Opening Yoga workshop.