I was first introduced to this concept as a distinctive, teachable kind of yoga by my beloved teacher, Erich Schiffmann. Erich didn’t really have a name for it so he sort of let those who practiced with him name it and the name, so far, stuck.
"It starts with the body, the yogi, slowing, perhaps stopping, the wheel of activity pushing most of us through our days."
What is it? There’s probably as many definitions as there are yogis practicing it. Here’s mine. It’s first and foremost meditation. It starts with the body, the yogi, slowing, perhaps stopping, the wheel of activity pushing most of us through our days. As Erich says, “Pausing.” This is so huge that it’s pure relevance and thunderous simplicity only comes through when you do it. It can’t really be anticipated because in the moment of a pure pause, no matter how long or short it is, time is suspended and the body merges consciously back into the infinite material that sponsors it. I call this the interface with God—the place where the bones and heart and muscles erupt directly into specific existence out of the totality.
If you’re used to making mindful, thought out, pre-ordained movements this is brand new. Freedom Yoga relies entirely on self-expression magically whirled into awareness through a conscious process of pausing— asking— and listening for guidance— and the hardest part— then doing or in the case of postures, moving the way your guided to do. The main thing about Freedom Yoga is it must be very close to the original yoga. The first yogis had no posture chart, no teachers or schools of instruction regarding movement or alignment—they had their meditative awareness and used movement as a way to find deeper, more intuitive, often more challenging positions to arrange the body for listening. The poses were a way of experiencing reverence, first for their local body and then for the collective body. Oneness. Union. Yoga.
It’s not a revelation that for most of us life is a continuing series of difficult events interposed between moments of joy, friendship and love. The joy part is easy for most of us. But the daily challenges, especially the big difficulties like illness and loss—this is where freedom style yoga is so elegant. By asking for, listening, then following guidance received when the poses take us out beyond the edge of comfort we built a foundation for doing this when discomfort arises off the mat.
What we do at Tenderpaws, in the Freedom Yoga classes, is start with some structured movements based on traditional postures. We do the yoga recognized as such everywhere—sun salutations, backbends, inversions, etc. But it is understood that as the teacher I offer only a rough draft of the poses. Each yogi in the class takes that draft and shapes it to fit the guidance they receive by listening inwardly. We often end up making similar discoveries by doing the same pose differently.
At the end of class, after an hour of movement, one student will put on music they enjoy and we all do our yoga practice together, moving in accordance with whatever interior wind blows in each of us. Ending with a traditional Shivasana.