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Yoga & Therapy: Donna Farhi’s Blueprint for Optimal Movement

Recently I’ve been reading Donna Farhi’s articles. As a yoga teachers’ legend, her work has been a steady source of inspiration for self-practice, teaching and being with clients in the therapy room.

Her article describes having a blueprint for optimal movement as being similar to understanding grammar; that there are developmental patterns of moving that are as crucial as knowing how to use a semi-colon. Like learning any language, sometimes we try on poses for size without truly understanding the innate natural movements of our body. So why should we revisit this grammar of movement as an adult? Didn’t we learn grammar in our early days? When we are familiar with the movements, everything flows better. She writes,

“When I looked at a student with her head turned at an awkward angle, I knew, for instance, that this wasn’t an isolated misalignment, but part of a larger pattern that needed addressing… Once awakened, this language of movement allows us to do normally difficult things with fluidic ease, just as a writer with an extensive vocabulary can give voice to her full capacity for expression. What I’ve also discovered is that a person’s inability to do a posture is rarely contingent on just a lack of strength or flexibility, but rather stems from incomplete expression of one or more of the developmental patterns.”

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Photo by Anupam Mahapatra on Unsplash

Likewise, in the therapy room a client’s incident or recent pattern of “challenging behaviour” isn’t an isolated thing, it’s usually part of a larger system of developmental gaps that needs to be discovered and understood. Once this wisdom has also been awakened to, it’s usually a great place to start working towards sustainable change.

What I’ve learned

These ideas spurred reflection on how developmental patterns (emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually, and relationally) have shaped my identity: the way I carry myself, what I believed was possible for me, and who I was in relation to others. For example, when I was younger and naturally more flexible, I used to enjoy more ‘stretchy’ classes and felt ashamed I could not hold strong arm balances. Similarly, off the mat I often bent over backwards to accommodate and please others; it felt important to me that I was loved and did not disappoint. Now, being a little older, wiser, and self-compassionate, I’m working on finding balance across my practices and relationships in life. I’m working on growing not only stronger muscles, but a stronger backbone that helps me uphold firm yet loving boundaries while still also being adaptable and flexible enough to move graciously in life.

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Photo by Florian Berger on Unsplash

In my own yoga practice, I’ve been exploring The Human Starfish and Donna’s advice: to hold the idea of a pose as a ‘soft intention’ with the aim to maintain a rhythm of breathing that moves me out from my navel towards my limbs, and which unifies all parts of my body. This brought on a new understanding of allowing my breath to lead my practice.

Previously, I used to think one or two steps ahead in my sequencing so I would have somewhere to go that was in sync with my breath. This was courtesy of being a ‘wing-it’ kind of yoga teacher. But I also saw this pattern emerge in other areas of my life, which often resulted in anxious thoughts about the future. She was right, “frequently our desire to do is motivated not by an authentic impulse but by the conditioned belief that nothing fruitful happens unless we direct or manipulate an action.”

I have been practicing this for a few weeks now, both on and off the mat. It’s brought a sense of spaciousness and novel delight to just being. For example, there are days my ‘not-good-enoughisms’ make me acutely aware of my non-existent 6-pack abs and the sluggish pace at which I am achieving my dreams. This simple, but challenging practice of allowing first, then doing has provided opportunities to listen to my gut and connect to the swell of my belly as a loving leader. In listening to how it wants to expand me, it has helped me feel more comfortable taking up space. By taking up more space, I’ve become more present and grounded in myself and my decision-making skills. It’s connected me to a different understanding of authenticity; that simply allowing myself to be…is kenough. I am kenough. You are kenough.

Barbie references aside, I highly recommend you read her articles, experiment with the patterns she describes and let me know what it was like for you!

If you would like to explore these patterns together, please book in for FREE initial consult for a 1:1 private yoga class, somatic psychotherapy or counselling session here.



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