The Merriam Webster definition
:a particular feeling or effect that your body experiences
: a particular feeling or experience that may not have a real cause
: the ability to feel things through your physical senses
When you are doing yoga are you always looking for something to feel? Looking for a sensation? I have taught for many years and throughout those years I have taught a lot of newcomers, people who don’t know they have a body let alone understand it. So a lot of my teaching has had the idea of looking for ‘sensation’. Feel this or look there. This is helpful to people beginning to explore their bodies and to understand what and where their pain may be.
Hopefully they eventually get to a point where there is no longer a need to look. Over time you learn to connect to your body, you know it so well that you know your edges, your challenges and you know when they change and shift. But sometimes it’s the absence of sensation we should be noting. I’ll explain.
I had a student in class last week make an interesting point; we had been doing a yummy psoas release (notice I didn’t say stretch) using a block and after class he said he couldn’t feel his psoas. I said most people can’t since they didn’t know where to look, he said he was well acquainted with it since he had been in PT several times for sports injuries. He said no matter how hard he stretched in the pose he couldn’t feel it. I wondered if maybe he was trying too hard. That sometimes it’s more about the letting go of sensation not chasing after it.
Well that conversation got me to thinking about sensation and the need for it in a yoga practice. Yoga teachers, me included, are always asking for students to ‘find their edge’ but here’s the thing most people are on the edge all the time, whether in pain or stressed out. Maybe we should add a few minutes in our practice to explore the absence of sensation.
I work with a lot of people in pain or at least a lot of discomfort. They feel sensation all the time, some even constantly, so for them we are usually working on letting go of the ‘sensation’, moving past it or around it. To learn to move in ways that aren’t the sensation of ‘pain’. But this idea can also apply to someone who may not be in pain, but their body is tight and stiff, rigid, stuck. Sometimes we need to change the need to feel a strong sensation when stretching (that hard ‘pull’ or ‘tug‘) maybe we could work towards feeling no sensation at all. Instead try simply letting go of, moving away from, sensation. Sometimes when releasing tightness there may be no sensation, none at all. This releasing creates space in the body, the (guess what) sensation of spaciousness. That concept of creating space in the body is about letting go of the tightness that contracts and that contraction or constriction is what can contribute to a lot of pain. We hold ourselves tight as if braced for battle and of you’ve been in pain for a long time you are always braced for that battle.
Think of this as part of learning the practice of Pratyahara. Pratyahara is the withdrawal of the senses from both the external world and the images or impressions in the mind. When we practice pratyahara we gradually gain positive control over the mind being obsessively drawn towards the things that contribute to our pain.
Sense withdrawal, pratyahara, rests on the solid foundation of a steady, comfortable posture and smooth, deep, quiet breath. The combination of breath and steady, calm movements and postures can help us find that place where sensation is sukha, effortless.
Try exploring the differences between stretching and releasing; stretching to create length and releasing the concept of letting go of tightness and creating space.
Let me know what you think