“That was a terrible, terrible, terrible class” I told my teacher as I sat in his office afterwards trying to stop the tears running down my face, waiting for my heart to stop thumping, and slowly allowing the tremors of emotion to ease and resolve into something of a smile. He took it well, concentrating on the tone of the words not the actual meaning!
Really, it was an amazing class. It rocked me. It filled me with an overwhelming sense of what it is to be alive, to be inhabiting this frail body, in a limitless world full of possibilities. But how could I contain such a sudden sense of openness? In everyday life existence is neatly constrained by my own small view of it, a construction that I can cope with. I deliberately keep things on a small scale; anything else is overwhelming. But now Yoga is revealing the cracks in my carefully built facade (the one I’ve been building all my life) and it’s starting to show me what might be beyond my limited perception.
Boom! — I’m broken open.
Class was pretty intense and my day had been full-on, so this was fertile ground for some yoga magic to get to me and turn me inside out. Again.
We were working on the shoulder action. Trying to maintain integrity in the shoulder joint through our surya namaskar practice. This was great, especially after a tense day at work with my shoulders creeping ever forward and upward, creating some kind of professional carapace, a rounded back to repel incoming stressors.
And it was just a fascinating and challenging exploration through Tadāsana, Uttanāsana, AMS. It was all just fine until we were invited to roll through into plank pose and my teacher said that if we were keeping our shoulders properly integrated the pose should feel easy and light, as though you could stay there forever. I heard uncomfortable laughter from some of the class. But for me IT DID FEEL LIKE THIS! And it did because this is exactly the discovery I’ve been making in my home practice recently and I’d had this little eureka moment on my own the week before. On the lounge floor in my pjs, as I guide myself through my own practice all the time full of loneliness (is anyone else doing this?) and full of doubt (should my practice be better/different/stronger/fancier? is this even yoga?). But doing it anyway. My sādhana, my uncertain faith.
And I was actually doing it. I had through my own physical experimentation and intellectual enquiry transformed my habitually slightly desperate and straining plank to something I could reasonably describe as sthira and sukha! My inner critic tells me this is no massive achievement. It’s a small detail, and not any technically difficult thing. But my body loved the feeling of my new plank. And for my head this was a fantastically validating moment. If the teacher built a class around inviting this feeling that I’ve been exploring already on my own, then there’s an inescapable conclusion: I am doing yoga and I know how to do my yoga, I am learning how to listen to my body and I am finding out what it can do as it gets healthier and stronger. And for me this is some big stuff.
Somehow this is what my newly formed plank pose offered me. So by the time we’d got to the inevitable, emotional backbends (heart-openers, as I now experience them) I was already emotionally lost, overwhelmed by a sense of magnitude and abundance. I spent about an hour of an hour-and-a-half class fighting the urge to run out of the room and away from the studio and all the difficult stuff that happens there. I learned early on that my teacher would never be impressed by anything that I did in the yoga room, so no point worrying about what he thinks of my practice. But here’s one time I think I could have seriously UN-impressed him — if I had done a runner. So I stayed and I breathed and I picked up the moving practice when I could and carried on through to my own messy ending. And this was hard.
So this why I ended up seeking quiet refuge in his office, feeling so open and exposed I couldn’t bear to be near anyone. A dreadful euphoria. An exquisite vulnerability. I felt full of hope and of fear. It seemed that being alive was at once the most joyful, vital experience imaginable with endless rich possibilities and yet was at once also so full of pain, grief, frustration, and fear.
This is why it was the most terrible yoga class and the most wonderful yoga class.
And it’s why I sit here today with my shoulders aching in different places to usual, and it’s why I’ll be back on my mat later today and again the day after, knowing that even a simple plank pose is somehow the workbench for all sorts of experimentation and discovery. It’s a research laboratory without the protective clothing. In fact it’s like I’m doing self-vivisection!