When was the last time you stood still and closed your eyes? Not in a weird-social-experiment-on-a-crowded-train way. But, standing in a comfortable space (ie. your own living room) and floating your eyes closed. If you pay attention, you will notice the slight shifts and wobbles of your body. You will notice how your feet react to compensate for imbalances, and your body shifts weight to stay standing. Now, we’re about to get real crazy. Have you ever tried your favorite yoga pose with your eyes closed? Maybe you are one of those jedi masters who chooses to practice sun salutations with their eyes closed. But if you are like most people who rely primarily on their vision, this can be a challenging but amazing experience.
I taught my first blindfolded workshop last month, and it was quite interesting to be on the other end. As the teacher, you are a guide to aid in the adjustment process. It is your job to remind the student to tap into the information they have, and to what their body is doing. Beginning with very basic, foundational poses, the student goes into a sort of survival mode, and remembers what their body already knows, and the tools they have through the other four senses. Eventually, the students relax into the practice, and begin to enjoy the challenge. It is an advanced exercise of what yoga already teaches us – to tap into what is happening in our body, where to hold on, and where to let go.
Most active people have pretty decent balance… maybe you can hold tree pose, or even a handstand, skateboard, surf, or ride a unicycle. But most of us rely very heavily on our eyesight. We lean on our vision so much, and as a result, we under-use our other four senses.
Enter blindfolded yoga. Studios are trying it out for various reasons. Some studios started blindfolded classes to squash the social-club meets-Luon-fashion-show vibe. Others to allow their students to bring their focus inward. And, a studio in NYC started it to accommodate a blind student. Regardless of the motivating reason, the results are significant to your yoga practice, as well as your self awareness.
Physically, we are forced to use our other senses – touch, smell, taste and sound – to gather information about our surroundings, and where our body is in relation to those surroundings. Just by closing your eyes, you exchange your vision for your hearing. Your hearing will be the primary sense that maintains equilibrium in your body. But on your mat, you can also use touch. The touch of your hands and feet on the mat versus the floor.
By removing our vision, we remove our self-judgement. We take away the comparisons and judgements on others as well as ourselves. We remove our ego, and then we are left with only our true selves. The core of who we are. The part of us that knows only truth, and doesn’t care that our five year old yoga pants have a gaping hole in the knee. With our eyes covered, our gaze has no choice but to to in…into our body, and into ourselves. Internally, without the outside distractions, we face the true battle which is happening inside. We may have memories, fears or emotions come up. And now, without judgement, without distraction, you face it. You have no choice but to face it. You look directly at it…whatever it is, and ou practice through it with focus and calm determination.
We can all agree that every difficult pose has an equally sweet release. The same is true here. So give it a try. Start small. And then, when you take off your blindfold, feel the sweet release. Notice your improved awareness and focus, and maybe even a feeling of emotional release and peace. And then, sign up for that tight rope class and go on with your balanced self.
Zefea had her first experience with yoga at the age of 4 when her parents practiced with renowned teacher Angela Farmer in the Iyengar tradition. She forgot about yoga during her teens and twenties and trained for boxing and the combat system Krav Maga. Zefea rediscovered the benefits of yoga when she started practicing Bikram Yoga in her home town Amsterdam. From 2006-2008 she represented the Netherlands as the Dutch gold medalist in the International Yoga Championships, finishing in the world's top 10. Zefea experienced new depths of yoga through practicing while pregnant (up till the day of giving birth).