In 2011, a bureau chief for The New York Times identified what Strala was up to as the most substantial shift to happen in yoga for decades. We were just getting started then (it still feels this way), but as Strala keeps evolving, we’re beginning to have a better sense of what she saw.
In the last 80 years, every form of yoga
has focused on instructing poses.
Strala instructs movement.
Why do we do this? Where does it come from?
Instructing poses puts yoga into a world of correct and incorrect, based on what the pose looks like. In this world, everybody tries to get into some idea of an externally perfect shape, that is the same for everyone. We think about how it looks. What muscles are engaged, flexed, or rotated. Where you bones are. In this world of ideas, there is a right way to look, and a wrong way. So we try to be right, the same, all of us. We are in our heads, in this world.
But it’s not possible to think your way into feeling good, or being healthy. It’s not possible to think your way into moving easily and capably through challenge. So this yoga becomes mostly a practice of frustration. It might keep the mind busy, and there are certainly benefits. But it’s not so effective in helping people create what they want in their life. Most people want to connect, and learn to follow their own intuition – not someone else’s rules. Most people want to feel good.
Instructing movement is something very different. With movement, it’s not possible to teach a visual that is correct or universal. Movement is energetic, individual, unique. Movement that is capable and effective is graceful and coordinated. It makes impossible possible. This can only be guided by feeling, not by ideas. So yoga that focuses on movement is an internal practice. This is harder than teaching and practicing poses. It’s also more rewarding.
Strala is the only system of yoga that focuses on guiding movement, with poses as somewhat arbitrary waypoints – no more important than any other place we can be, or any other shape we can take. In this way, Strala is the only system of yoga that guides an internal practice of connecting, and leading how you move and live from how you feel. Of course everybody agrees that yoga is an internal practice. So practicing of poses can not be yoga. It can only be yoga-like exercises, one pose after the other.
Tai chi and other ancient forms of movement & healing
Similar to yoga, tai chi has its origins as an internal energy practice. Also similar to yoga, I’ve seen tai chi mostly grow away from an internal practice of energy and feeling, into a westernized practice of poses – which are called “tai chi-like exercises.” I think this happens when teaching and practice are based on what people see, rather than what they feel. You can see right away. This is easy. With little experience or success in their own body and life, a teacher can see a pose, or a tai chi position, and instruct this position to their students. Teachers can also make up large volumes of rules about these poses and forms, to keep students’ minds busy for a very long time. As with yoga, this doesn’t lead to much capability with our being, moving or healing.
Guiding feeling takes something more. You must have something in your own body and life, before you can give it to others. Coordinated, graceful, capable movement – the ability to do much more with much less – is created from feeling. It requires us to slow down, breath deep, and connect. It requires belief. Believe that what you feel is relevant, worth responding to. Believe that “no pain no gain” is a self-limiting myth. Believe we can accomplish far more through peace, letting stress go, rather than through aggression, struggle, and stress. This becomes your way of being. It becomes how you move, how you create yourself, and the world around you.
Tai chi, yoga, and all the ancient forms of movement and healing are first internal practices. Internal practice forms How you are, in everything you do. So it’s not something we look to change overnight. It’s not something that changes when we get into a pose or form that looks correct. How you are is what you create through how you move, how you feel your way through your life, how you guide yourself from your feeling, or without it. Connected, or not connected.
It’s worth noting that each of these ancient forms – tai chi, qi gong, calligraphy, vacuuming – always accomplish challenge with the least amount of effort possible. This is a striking contrast with the modern trend in exercise and even yoga, toward stress-inducing, no victory without battle, work as hard as possible even when doing very little. In yoga, this approach comes from of an old idea: that we should practice stress and suffering, in order to leave behind what suffers – the body. But the science of stress has progressed to a point where we know this isn’t a good idea. We don’t need to practice stress. We also don’t need to transcend our body. It’s a good body. We should place our focus on releasing stress, and supporting our body to heal. This feels good. Everybody wants to feel good.
The topic of alignment is also interesting here. In East Asian movement and healing systems, you would never move out of alignment with yourself, so it’s never necessary to stop, pose, and fix your alignment. You always move naturally, without endpoints, one phrase leading naturally to the next. If you move unnaturally, it just means you’ve made some mistake, and the person you’re practicing with can point that out to you, through your connection with them. Usually these mistakes involve moving in a way that is imbalanced – either too little or too much tension – and without coordination – which blocks the free flow of energy.
Yoga in the last couple of decades has grown obsessed with pose-based alignment – in which people move awkwardly and out of alignment with themselves, then need to stop, pose, and fix the problem. In Strala, as with all the older forms, you move always in alignment with yourself. In this way, you don’t create problems to fix, and you’re able to do much more with much less effort. Being in alignment with yourself also feels good, always.
We can choose to connect, to feel, and to create our lives from how we feel. This is an opportunity – to practice this in our yoga, and in everything we do. It’s not a practice of poses. Poses in yoga, tai chi, other ancient art forms – they are waypoints, not endpoints. They are the vocabulary that provides structure to our movement. The endpoint is never visible. It’s in feeling, and learning to move with how we feel, in everything we do.
There is something good here, worth practicing. Creating your life is something good, worth practicing.