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Question the rules

Last night I was watching a fictional TV show that presented in interesting ethical dilemma: the upshot was that a Doctor was making decisions that were against the law, but which she believed to be the ethical and humane choice. So the storyline pitted what was legal against what was “right”, which is a much more subjective concept than what is written in the law.

By nature, I have always been more of a rule abider than a rule breaker. Rules serve to provide boundaries and guidelines, to establish order in a civilized society. Yet if a rule seems wrong, or ridiculous, or not grounded in a strong rationale, then my tendency is to ignore it.

The longer I study and practice yoga and meditation, the more I am questioning the so-called rules that go with these practices.

Depending on what school or lineage of yoga you practice, there can be very strict rules imposed. Take alignment as an example. There are many alignment cues taught as “non-negotiable truths” that make absolutely no sense when you consider the vast differences between individual bodies. It’s not merely a matter of how flexible or inflexible your muscles are, the best alignment for you in any given pose is going to be influenced by your bone shape, the ratio of tendon length to muscle, the proportion of your thigh bone to the length of your torso, the lifestyle you lead, your age, gender…I could go on.

As a result, my teaching cues have changed over the years and my hands-on adjustments have become few, because who am I to force your body into a shape that I perceive to be “correct”? Instead my focus has shifted to guiding my students to feeling into their own bodies, and using sense-perception and intuition to determine how they might need to adjust.

This shift in attitude has also created more freedom in my own practice. I no longer practice the way I was taught that I “should”, instead trying to practice in a way that feels good. In a way that reduces strain, that doesn’t feel like struggle. I no longer force myself into poses that I instinctively know are no good for me.

I am finding similar freedom in my flexible approach to meditation. I am sure you have heard the rules before. You should meditate in a seated position with an upright spine. You should hold still and resist all sensations telling you to move. You should clear your head of all thoughts. Blah blah blah. The reality is that if I adhered to these rules, I doubt that I would meditate at all.

One transformational book I am reading is called “Meditation Secrets for Women” which presents the view that traditional meditation methods and techniques originate from ancient practices designed for monks. These practices get passed on through the generations, and of course they evolve with the times, but in many traditions it is disrespectful for the student to challenge or question the “master”.

“…the age-old stereotype of meditation – that it involves making your mind perfectly still. This may be possible if you live in a cave or a religious order and your life is simplified to the extreme: you live in isolation, don’t have a job, don’t handle money, don’t have dreams, and just follow orders. If you live in the world, love people, feel passionately, and work, you cannot and should not try to impose stillness in meditation. It works much better to embrace motion, including the movement of emotion and thoughts.”

So my encouragement to you in your yoga and meditation practice is this: Do not blindly follow the rules as they are taught to you. Treat the rules as guidelines. Explore the rationale and reason behind the rules, and try them on to see if they fit. If they don’t fit, find your own way, for you are your own best teacher.

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