May Teacher Feature: Celebrating 10+ years of Teacher Training

Danielle baby photo

Danielle Polen

I have a fascination with Buckminster Fuller and, in particular, his concept of “Tensegrity”—a word he coined to describe the combination of strength and resiliency found in the geodesic domes he invented. Myofascial anatomists point to the human body as a prime example of tensegrity at work—the muscles, ligaments, and tendons pull upon the bones of the body, stabilizing and supporting them against the forces of gravity. When we are well aligned and balanced in relationship to gravity, movement transfers through our systems evenly, and there is no single place in the body that must bear the entirety of our effort.

While Buckminster Fuller may have coined the term, Patanjali alluded to it over 2,000 years ago in Book 2, Verse 47 of the Yoga Sutras, which states: “prayatna-shaithilya-ananta-samapattibhyam.” As one commentator explains it, “Shaithilya means being loose, not tight, relaxed, while prayatna means effort, striving, or a state of tension. Thus, Patanjali seems to be stating that, in asana, one must make an effort to relax effort—to relax the tension in order to move into a balanced and synergistic self-sustaining state.” Or, translated another way: “When the pairs of opposites come into balance, active effort ceases and presence spontaneously arises … the effort is in training ourselves to find the balance and, once it starts to support itself, getting out of the way.”

When we apply this concept to the practice of asana, we can begin to glimpse the relationship between balanced, connected movement and ease and lightness in the posture. When we begin to practice tensegrity on the yoga mat, we begin to cultivate the attention, intention, and awareness to practice it on a daily basis, in all areas of our lives, thereby expanding our potential to let go of struggle while remaining strong, flexible, and open to possibility, much like a bamboo plant. We can lean with the wind, but it doesn’t break us.

The above is a pretty long “wind-up” for answering the question “Why do you (still) teach yoga?,” which is one of several questions I was instructed to discuss in this post and the only one I’ll attempt to answer (sorry, Siobhan).

When I enrolled in Tranquil Space’s teacher training program—as part of the very first class of trainees back in 2002—I certainly wasn’t thinking about Buckminster Fuller, or tensegrity, or even the Yoga Sutras. I also had no inkling at the time that yoga would become the tensegric force in my life, as I navigated (among other things) the dissolution of my marriage and divorce, a job change, a new relationship, aging parents in need of support, aging canine children in need of support, my own aging and the attendant physical and emotional changes that come with hitting the half-century mark, remarriage at 51, and all of the small, breathtaking moments in between.

So if you drop into my yoga class, and there’s no music playing, and I ask you to press into your left big toe while hugging your right hip towards your left and broadening your collarbones, all while holding a posture for a little bit of time and paying attention to your intention, it’s not because I don’t like music or because I’m anal about alignment (AAA). It’s because I’m excited about your personal journey toward balance, and hope to offer you a quiet place to focus and a few tools that might prove useful to you upon that journey.

Why do I still teach yoga? We enter this world on an inhale and exit it on an exhale. In between, a single breath creates dynamic relationships in some 230 joints in the human body… How amazing is that?

I’m grateful to all of my students and yoga colleagues; to the teachers who continue to inspire and inform both my practice and my teaching—John Schumacher, Sarah Powers, Jenny Otto, Terence Ollivierra, Tias Little; to that special group of teachers who were also there at “the beginning”; and finally, to Kimberly Wilson, Creative Force Extraordinaire.

Now you know why Tranquil Space’s resident teacher training skeleton is named Buckminster!


2 thoughts on “May Teacher Feature: Celebrating 10+ years of Teacher Training

  1. Sarah Lawrence

    May 1, 2013 at 2:12pm

    What a terrific piece. Danielle, you are a magical writer. Thank you for all you’ve shared with us!

  2. Lara

    May 2, 2013 at 1:06am

    Magical indeed!! So wise!

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