Teaching Skillfulness in Action
Kate Heffernan

One of my favorite quotes about yoga comes from the Bhagavad Gita: "yoga is skillfulness in action.” To me, skillfulness in action is choosing precision of actions over amount of movement. Skillfulness in action is introverted, it is inquisitive, it is asking your body, "What makes sense today?" and waiting for the answer. Then move in a way that is mindful and aligned.

As a teacher of yoga asana I am dedicated to helping my students find specificity and alignment in their physical yoga practice. Part of what I love about the style of yoga I teach, Vinyasa Flow, is that when the poses are correctly aligned, they can move seamlessly from one to the next. In essence, the alignment of one pose can help to inform and create the appropriate alignment for the pose that follows it.

This inspires me in every class that I teach to come back to the “basics.” The most ubiquitous poses in our Flow practice (Downward Facing Dog, Upward Facing Dog, Plank, Chaturanga) tend to so often be passed over in favor of the big “party trick” poses. And while I love a good party trick pose as much as the next yoga practitioner (or teacher for that matter), what I am more interested in is choosing precision and specificity instead of forcing or pushing to chase the outer shape of a pose.

Leonardo da Vinci is credited with saying, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” More than anything I am interested in helping my students to be sophisticated in their practice starting from the “simplest” of poses. I want to help them find a physical practice that is mindful, skillful, and specific. When a student learns to practice this way, it frees them up to practice their version of yoga depending on whatever their given set of circumstances might be on any given day. Whether they are working with an injury, taking it easy because they are sore or choosing to challenge themselves by holding plank for an extra 10 breaths, when a student chooses to be precise and mindful, no matter what their choice within a given pose or class, it will be safe, aligned, and skillful.

My sincere hope is by teaching this way, by encouraging skillfulness in action, that each and every student can realize that any class, any physical practice of yoga can meet them where they are and be accessible, because it’s not about the pose, it’s about the practice.