On curiosity in yoga

Are you curious?  I am.  I think we all are.  It seems that we are hardwired for curiosity because it is linked not just to our cognition but also to our survival and evolution. Recent research confirms that it is critical to learning and knowledge acquisition. It turns out that curiosity didn’t kill the cat, it helped it to adapt and evolve.

If curiosity is hard-wired into us,  how can we harness it in our yoga practice?  For some, it will be a natural, inbuilt reaction, but for others it will be less so.  What I am interested in, is the set of beliefs,  attitudes and considerations that enable people to explore yoga with curiosity.  The risk if we don’t is that we go to a class or follow a YouTube video or read a book and just follow the lesson or instructions by rote – a process without meaning and a perpetual guessing game prescribed by the teacher, regardless of its relevance to each person in the room.

My rebellious nature has meant that I wouldn’t necessarily follow what the teacher, writer or YouTuber said or did absolutely to the letter. I would listen for the heart of the instruction, and then bring a particular attitude to the practice to apply it to me, and my body, energy, mind and breath. This can be summed up by the list I wrote on the blackboard pictured here. I always ask questions, of myself, and of the teacher, but also of others.  If the teacher says “do this”, I always query “why?”.  I try as a teacher and prefer to hear other teachers say: “see what happens if you try this”.

If someone seems to have perfected a yoga pose, I don’t get irritated or gloomy about their better pose, nor do I get competitive – I try to find out how they did it.  Yoga posture (as one aspect of yoga) becomes then, an exploration of possibilities and experimentation. As with all experiments when we discover things we are delighted. Sometimes the delight translates into the famous “Aha!” moment. These moments are the “mother lodes” of yoga and movement.   I experienced this recently when I was exploring and experimenting with PNF stretching as an approach to my forward bending (paschimottasana) practice.

Having fun and enjoying the practice is a powerful aid to learning, and most of the time an inquisitive, curiosity driven approach can help to achieve this.  Curiosity also seems to bring a sense of wonder to our practice too.  This comes from those “aha!” moments, but also arises when we allow ourselves to wander. By this, I mean that we allow our intuition to come to the fore rather than allow our logical, rational self dominate.  In doing so, we infuse our self in the moment rather than thinking of the endpoint.

A sense of wonder probably arises from suspending judgement and seeing things a new, perhaps rekindling our childlike awareness and observations, and in doing so allowing our imagination and intuition to flourish rather than our logical function. 

A spirit of investigation and query can help us to sustain our curiosity.  When our curiosity leads us to a discovery, or an insight – or even the proverbial “ah ha!” moment, it can be helpful to see if we can repeat that experience, and the outcome. If something is repeatable it may be that you have found a reliable approach that works for you.

For example,  I noticed after a period of chanting I always felt calmer and more relaxed.  Curious, I strapped on pulse and blood pressure monitors and mindful of bias,  I repeated the experiment over a period of time, and with others administering and monitoring the measures. What we found is that after five minutes of vedic chanting my blood pressure reduced, as did my pulse.  I know now following more investigation that this is what is called vagus nerve stimulation in action.  However while one observation was interesting, a number of similar observations and data points was illuminating and not only confirmed the utility of chanting for blood pressure and resting pulse but also the potential benefits for others.

This is why I love curiosity in yoga, and in our lives more generally. It leads us to explore the possibilities, and in doing so to realise our potential.  It opens up possibilities and potential for others too.

So whether you are exploring a personal practice, or you are in a class – don’t just follow the movements and postures as if you were painting by numbers.  Try to be curious – ask yourself questions, question the teacher,  query the process and explore the practice.  But most importantly, be curious – begin with a spirit of inquiry and see where it takes you.

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