Someone has asked my teacher to be more strict. He mentioned it in class last night. I don’t know what he made of this request (inscrutable yoga teacher!) but it rang alarm bells to me. More strict? Seriously? For me he’s strict enough already. But subtly so and only if I choose to meet him there (some gently yogic version of Stockholm Syndrome?). His strictness requires my active participation, to practice with honesty and alertness, staying open to the possibilities, seeking my own truth in what he offers. And that works for me.
He quietly compels me to stay awake through the whole practice time (and beyond), no dozing onto auto-pilot, even when physically at rest; he asks difficult questions that have no answers but require that I fall into the heart of the matter to enquire for myself, flowing with the uncertainties and paradoxes; he demands that I always do my best but wisely so, judging for myself when to move and in what direction (advance, stay steady, withdraw); he allows me, requires almost, to let go — to trust, to fly, to settle, to laugh or cry… often both. He tells me with seriousness that I am a yogi, burdening me and uplifting me with all the responsibility and joy that this identification carries.
If this isn’t a strict teacher, what is?
And this class was a tough one. It felt (to my grand ego!) to have been designed as a perfectly personalised torture. The strictness here felt very real to me at least! He required me to explore the front of the shoulder. Is that so hard? Oh yes. 100 times yes.
How to explore the subtleties of front vs back body (yin and yang planes), allowing an opening to arise and melt the tensions, resisting the temptation simply to squeeze the shoulder blades together and force the issue. How to sense minutely the craving I have for this open-hearted way of being that lies beneath the brute, everyday fears of vulnerability and existence. How strict does a teacher need to be to persuade me to dive into that contradictory state and dwell there, watching emotions rise and fall, listening to my heart whispering in a language I barely comprehend, softening into my strength? Opening my heart is an act of pure faith. I need some help with that.
So too, on a different level, in the physical exploration of the shoulder joint. The trapped nerve I have at the moment makes some of these movements exceedingly, but fleetingly, painful. I’m working with my physio on this so I know I’m not doing damage. The discipline here is in acknowledging the pain but remaining impassive. “Soften your face” my teacher said to me as he encouraged me to find the subtle interplay of outward/inward rotations through the whole length of my arm and hand (the bandha, he called it). Oh yeah, just let me find my smiling tranquil Buddha face while my nerves scream and fire tension into my muscles.
Sure this doesn’t seem particularly strict — all he was actually doing was asking me to let go of some frowny, jaw-clenching tension, his physical intervention was just a gentle suggestion to my upper arm. In contrast, my brushes with a couple of different teachers recently hint at what properly strict adjustments feel like. They’ve practically forced me through a couple of mental blockages I’ve had about what my body (shoulders included!) can do. Helpful in their way, but requiring only my compliance in the rearrangement of my limbs.
My teacher’s version of strict on the other hand requires commitment and courage. My heart was singing throughout this, exalting in my trust and willingness to give up the fears and the physical limitations and instead to sink beneath; to go in, in, in, even as my body opened outward. But I wouldn’t venture there on my own. I need the discipline he offers. His soft strictness is as subtle a blend of contradictions as the actions and attitudes he was teaching. There’s more to be learned from contemplating that, than from being beaten through a sequence or man-handled into a pose. But it’s a blink-and-you-miss-it strictness. You have to want it to find it. A bit like Yoga, I guess.