Barriers and hurdles

I was at a workshop at the weekend in London with a fancy American teacher, someone whose published work I really like. It was a fascinating afternoon and I learned a lot, even though it was more a very long led sequence than a workshop as such. There was no time for questions or discussion, unfortunately.

I really liked an opening statement that yoga is just the art of paying attention. I think I get this. And we were working hips for a few hours — this needing as much careful, deliberate attention as I could bring to bear. But then later on, in a particularly challenging posture that solicited groans from various points in the room, he said when we reached a barrier, that’s when the āsana starts. Really? I must be doing something wrong in my practice then. I am wary of trying to break barriers in any āsana. That’s when I want to slow right down, survey things carefully, just maybe tiptoe a little forward, following the breath, but more usually it’s the time when I stay still and just try to watch.

seatedAm I too cautious? And just when I was sitting in a particular seated twist feeling comfortably set-up and just as far as I needed to be in the posture, the teacher appeared next to me and gave a firm assist. I thought this was a bold move since it meant that he was opening up the shoulder that is covered in sticky tape (you’ll see I’ve swapped pink for green now!). Does he see so subtly that he knows this is ok? Or was this a risky manoeuvre? In the event I have to say it felt pretty good. In very businesslike manner he pushed me through a perceived barrier and right out the other side. “And that’s the angle you’re looking for” he summarised smartly, as he moved off towards the next student who’d caught his eye.

Once again I’m left wondering what perspective others have on my āsana. I mean, I’m an inexperienced teacher, but I even I can read much in my students; I can see when they’re avoiding the work, when they’re uncomfortable, when they’re tired or when they’re lazy. If I could see myself from this perspective, what would I learn? Would I see someone who shies away from barriers and avoids the real yoga deal?

Now that I think about it, I am trying to renegotiate my own boundaries in my practice, just not quite in this kind of way. I’m not pulling myself into any deeper posture but I have just taken what feels like a big leap: I’ve just asked my regular teacher for monthly private. Yes, I’m less than 5 years old in yoga terms and already I’ve decided that a group class can only teach me so much. I don’t know if this is normal or not; it feels pretty bold to me. But he agreed, so it’s first meeting this week. I am super excited — and a little nervous. But mostly I’m just full of ideas of what we could look at or talk about, what questions I might best ask of the dozens that fizz through my head on any given day. Is it about a particular āsana, is it about my teaching practice, or history, philosophy or anatomy….?

hurdleAnd then when I dropped my teacher an email trying to define for him ahead of time what I’m particularly interested in right now, I found myself talking about what challenge āsanas I’m working on and asking for help there. So maybe my practice is about moving through some barriers after all? I just don’t like the language. ‘Barrier’ always suggests ‘pain barrier’ and that’s a dangerous game to play. Maybe ‘hurdle’ feels better — something I might set up well to leap over rather than bust through.

Or maybe, as my friend commented after the workshop, I think about everything too much and yoga isn’t really so difficult after all… 🙂

3 thoughts on “Barriers and hurdles

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  1. Oh! I’m relieved that the adjustment was okay!! I wasn’t sure where your adventure was heading…! Good that it went well – but – I would never feel comfortable teaching in that way. I mean, I am just a little low profile teacher, not like this luminary! – but I just do not feel that I have the ability to know what’s really happening for someone else in their asana practice. Any iteration of asana is so much just the tip of the iceberg. I have enormous respect for all that submerged experience that we each carry into our practice. And I have also come to feel that not interfering overly much with someone’s practice can allow that individual to be in control. For some teachers, making those big adjustments might be nothing more than a manifestation of asmita. Anyway, in the end, I suppose it’s good that there are so many different teaching styles, because there are so many different learning styles in students!
    Thank you for sharing your adventure!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks k8. I was relieved the adjustment turned out ok too! I’m still not sure which side of the assists fence I sit on … Personally I’ve had very few bad experiences, and no significantly harmful ones. And I have had some fantastic ones that have taught me so so much about how my body works or helped me understand something where words weren’t possible. My personal experience suggests this is a great way to learn. But I can see the perils esp with a guest teacher… And as an inexperienced teacher, I know my place and am v careful in what I offer but my students say they love it if I use my hands to guide them.
      And I take the point about asmita. This is tricky stuff. Oh, I’m thinking too much again! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s kind of the same with running. The progress happens just beyond the point of bearable comfort. That tough hill or interval where I want to walk but don’t, create a new base. Although, now the challenge is to find that spot within the boundaries of comfort.

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