Training Baby Elephants

It is said there is a technique used to train baby elephants that will be used as farm animals or in forestry where the baby elephant is roped to a tree or a stake when they are young.  The baby elephant will explore their environment but it soon discovers that it reaches a certain limit – the length of the rope – and it can go no further.   The elephant becomes so conditioned to that being the scope of its movement, how far it can roam, that it accepts that perimeter.  The farmer/forester then removes the rope.  The elephant could wander and explore as far as it wishes but it has been so conditioned to a limited range that it stays within the confines of the length of the rope.

In last month’s magazine we discussed why we do things at Apollo Power Yoga the way that we do, including why we do not run “beginners’” or “basics” classes as a feature of our regular timetable.  Those who perceive themselves as being in need of such classes are stuck at the limits of their mental rope.  There is nothing to actually stop them participating in a power vinyasa class and doing what they can (and in so doing, growing in mobility, in strength and in competence).  However, such is their conditioning to believe they are lacking or need something less or need to be accommodated in a very simple and non-challenging way, they are stuck in very confined parameters and deny themselves access to the great wide world.

I believe that almost every student who comes into practice has a mental rope restraining them in their practice when there is no physical impediment to progress.  It may be a mental block with a certain pose (e.g. dancer’s pose with a strap).  It may be a transition that is the barrier (e.g. crow to low plank – so many students I observe have good low planks and good crows but cannot make the transition).  It may be a style of practice (e.g. believing you are only capable of Relax and Restore and that you are not up to power vinyasa).  It may be a mind block with respect to a certain technique of practice (e.g. resistance to ujjayi breathing).  But the blocks are there and they have as much substance as a phantom rope on an adult elephant’s leg.

In your practice, there is room to grow.  I say that to everyone, no matter who you are, no matter your age, your gender, your degree of experience with yoga, your present strength or mobility or whatever.  Baron Baptiste once said to a group of trainees at a programme I attended, that no matter how much we thought we were each capable of, we were capable of more.  And that was my experience!

On Baptiste programmes I have experienced happiness in being me that I did not think I would experience.  I have had my eyes opened to actions and techniques in my practice that I had assumed were for younger, stronger, more naturally gifted people than me.  I have learned methods of teaching that have made me a better teacher than I knew I could be because they required me to try a new way, to do something different from the usual in my teaching and exceed the limits of my own mental rope.

In 2010 I went away to train as a yoga teacher for the first time.  On the programme, I encountered exercises in personal inquiry that I had not in any way expected.  The inquiry process led me to some understanding of the mindsets that had confined me and that had denied me happiness that was there to be had.

In 2011 Margo and I were in one of Baron’s extremely taxing practices in Hawaii.  The room was hot, the practice was tough and I was sweating freely with rivulets of sweat running from my brow and shoulders.  At one point we were in downward facing dog and Baron cued us to coil and engage and float into crow!  So I floated from downward facing dog into crow.  That was new to me and outside the scope of my own belief in my abilities.  But I did it because I was in a state of enthusiasm and willingness to try.  I found I was capable of more than I imagined I was.

On the same programme I was given the steps to make the transition from headstand into wheel (yes, that is a thing!) and I followed the steps, made the transition into wheel and experienced something that was outside the scope of what I had previously believed was possible for me.

In 2012, at another of Baron’s programmes, this time outside of Austin, Texas, I was involved in a group exercise that involved each person on the programme taking a turn to teach the whole group.  To do so well required getting one’s doubts right out of the way and being in a free channel calling forth the poses from the students with enthusiasm and connection.  In this exercise I took the opportunity to be edgy, to take a risk, to put myself under the scrutiny of my students, who were also my peers – and it worked.  I showed up as a greater teacher than I had been before and that experience illuminated a pathway of teaching on a higher plane that has shown up, to a greater or lesser extent, in workshops, teacher training courses and daily studio classes ever since.

The restrictions on people’s movements over the last few years have had the same sort of effect as the rope on the elephant’s leg.  People became conditioned to not going to certain places, not behaving in certain ways and have retained these limits in their lives at some level even though the laws imposing those limits have been removed.

An elephant is a smart creature – one of the more advanced animals on the earth and typically rated as one of the five or six smartest creatures on earth alongside others such as orangutans, chimpanzees, bottle-nosed dolphins, some parrots and crows, and pigs.  Even with that intelligence the elephant can be conditioned into a pattern of restricted behavior.  We humans are a smart species but we are just like other species in our capacity to be trained or conditioned into certain patterns of thought and behaviour.

Some of those who used to and no longer practice yoga have been conditioned out of attending yoga studios.  They have had a metaphorical rope tied to their leg.  The rope restricted their scope of movement.  The rope has been removed but they have been unwilling to expand out into the wide open frontiers available to them.  How else to explain that literally hundreds of people who used to be annual members at Apollo Power Yoga are no longer students with us.  We are unchanged.  We are here offering the same great practices (together with Power Pilates as an additional attraction) in the same studios with the same great style of teaching.

Wake up to where your mental conditioning has placed a limitation upon you that is, in truth, just a figment of your imagination.  There is no rope holding you back from practicing with us.  There is no rope preventing you from growing, developing and making advances in your practice, regardless of your age or degree of strength, mobility, experience or whatever.  There is no rope restraining you from playing an edge in your life to create joy and fulfilment in your relationships, your career and your heart’s desire.

Let go your mental rope.  Explore the frontiers available to you.  Yoga is the way to your highest way.  In your yoga practice, explore your boundaries and parlay the experience of so doing into a way of being that frees you to expand in all aspects of your life.  Make today the day that you get deep into practice.