How much is enough?

I met him and his 2 children on my first teaching job. I was 17 and was teaching a multi-millionaire and his 2 children how to sail a small boat. After being on the boat for a while, the children became more and more restless. They kept asking their dad for something really expensive. I can’t remember what it was but I remember being surprised at how readily he said yes. And even more surprised at how little happiness this brought about in his 2 kids.

Think about the last time you ate an ice cream or a bit of chocolate and really enjoyed it. It was great, right? So, if that made you happy, think about what 10 ice creams would do. 10 times happier, obviously.

Actually, not really. It turns out what we need constraints to be really happy. One ice cream can make you really happy because you know that you can repeat it but you choose not to, you have other things to do which are more meaningful to you (and have less risk of expanding your waist line).

If I had to say the one thing that Alexander’s discoveries brought to my yoga practice that really changed it for the better, it wouldn’t be his discovery of the head / spine relationship.

It was his concept of too much too soon. Of overdoing things and ending up worse off. He noticed that people tended to rush through life, tended to want something without really thinking through how they were going to get it.

He called it end gaining.

In a yoga world that was busy getting flexibility at any cost, the concept of end gaining turned out to be a life saver. End gaining in the Alexander world is a very sophisticated yet simple inquiry into how much is enough. It is embedded in the way that Alexander people approach their work. That simple question of ‘how much is enough’ turns out to be one of life’s really deep questions.

When it comes to yoga, how much increased flexibility will make us happier? Function better, be easier in ourselves? It turns out that the answer to that is ‘not a lot’. Our joints have absolute limits which come about when bone meets bone. And there are limits to do with the state of your soft tissue (muscles, connective tissue, fascia).

One of the earliest lessons I do with my yoga students is to get them to figure out their current range of movement. Then figure out what the difference is between bone meeting bone (something they should never go beyond) and the limits set by their soft tissue (something they can work on). I wish someone had done something similar to me when I first started yoga lessons, it would have saved me a lot of frustration and anxiety.

There are lots of very interesting questions about how to get to a place of an expanded range of movement.

  • How many poses do we need to do each day?
  • How long do we need be in the pose?
  • When do we need to those poses?
  • How often do we need to do a particular pose? Once a day? Once a month?

These are questions I regularly ask myself and my students. The answer varies, but the process is a lot more fun than pushing your body beyond your limits and then spending weeks or even months trying to get over it.

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© Kevin Saunders, Yogaground 2017

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