When you orient yourself towards something, you point yourself towards it, literally or figuratively.
The Orient is an old-fashioned name for Asia, or the East. It’s where the sun rises, and, sure enough, the Latin root of orient means “rising,” as in the rising of the sun. If you’re lost in the woods, probably the first thing you’d do is look for the sun and try to orient yourself — figure out which direction you need to walk in order to get to where you want to go. You might also take out your orienteering equipment — your compass and map. If the sun isn’t out, you might have to settle in and orient yourself to your surroundings and prepare for a long night in the woods.
Nowadays we have many things that pull us away from our natural ability to orient. Google maps does all the work for us on a long journey, but orienting plays a role in understanding where we are in our life, and this lends us to feeling safe, or to understanding when we are under threat. In the world of Google maps and other apps that tell you how you feel, what your heart rate is, and the other sundry details of your inner and outer worlds, it means that we lose touch of self-regulation. We no longer have to be responsible for knowing ‘where we are’ if we are relying on robots to do the work for us.
While Google maps might be helpful to get you where you are going in a city, we need to get back to basics when it comes to orienting our inner world. The practice of orienting is one of cultivating awareness. It helps the body-mind understand where it is in space, which leads to its ability to relax into any given situation. In the technology-driven world where computers do the seeking out of factual information faster than we ever could, many people tend to brace themselves for this frenetic new unnatural pace. This manifests in the body as a hunched up, protective shape, which, if you take the time to look up from your mobile phone, you will see all around you while people run around looking at their iphone, relying on Google maps to get them from point A to point B.
I have two workshops coming up in March that will go into more detail about orientation from different perspectives; each will deeper into its own theme. On March 10th, we will spend a whole day exploring spinal movement, which relies on orientation to move freely. We will be looking specifically at the role the spine plays in differentiating the hips from the shoulders, and how the shoulders help us to walk, run, twist and open the chest. This will take place at The Yoga Campus in London.
On March 17th, I will host an afternoon at Indaba Yoga Studio with my workshop Embodied Yoga as Fascial Fitness: Orientation and Directionality. This workshop will shine a light on how orientation helps us to adapt and move through a spectrum, from soft and fluid, to structured and rigid, where we will arrive at a more integral approach to yoga asana. I hope to see you there!