My mum’s had a few one-to-one classes with her yoga teacher recently. She doesn’t like the group class so she’s trying to get up some confidence and explore yoga a little bit more to see if it really is for her or not.
I can’t tell her what to do, I can’t offer her the reassurance she seeks that she is worth a teacher spending time on, or that she deserves the practice in some broader way. I ask myself these questions all the time. I have to find my own reserves of faith to keep going on the bad days when my mat feels like a wilderness and the class a jungle. I have no ability to answer for anyone else, even my dearest, bestest Mum for whom I would move mountains if it made her happy.
She asked me how yoga made me feel. I guess she was seeking some reason for pursuing this strange practice, the purpose of which she can’t quite define. Tough question. How does yoga make me feel? And is this relevant to how she might feel after her yoga? I started to talk about the feeling of space that yoga offers, that after my practice I feel more open, more generous in spirit, patient, loving…She cut me off — mid-adjective almost.
“But how do you feel?”
“What do you mean, Mum? All these things are how I feel! I’m trying to tell you.”
No, what she wanted to know was how my body felt. Did I feel good in my body. She’s just talking about āsana practice, so I guess this is a fair question and one that I’d kind of jumped over.
She’s in her late 70s so our experiences are inevitably different. Actually she is way more flexible than I am, but she lacks strength and stamina. For her this is perhaps what yoga is: a movement of her aging body that helps her feel alive and vigorous. For me it is that too, but it’s also something very different. I still feel new to this practice, but for me already āsana is a means for something beyond the physicality, it’s not a thing in itself. It’s my laboratory, my therapy, my playground, my cathedral, my solace and my challenge, my solitude and my union.
Yes, I suppose my body feels good after practice. But I don’t dwell there. If I’m lucky it feels good during practice and that’s where I try to linger, feeling awe at the synchronisation of breath and body, how muscles respond and endlessly readjust, weight shifts, breath draws my movements on. And then during savasana I try to let go of those feelings in my body, and inhabit some place else.
I can’t describe this to her. It’s not her yoga.
Just as she can’t describe her yoga to me.
That’s something of the beauty of the practice, the multiplicity of experiences within some common framework. It’s like we each have our own personal dialects within the language family of yoga.
And still I don’t know if she will continue her practice.
And still I don’t know what guidance I might offer.