Seeing me

A man on the tube platform asked if I was ok and lightly touched my arm in reassurance as he let me be and continued on his way. At the mainline station the vendor gave me my hot chocolate for free. I clearly look a bit of a mess. But I don’t mind so much today. The kindness of strangers is becoming easier to accept. I feel deeply grateful to these two men and their small gestures of care towards me. Even in the swarming crowds I have been seen and my small distress was noted. I think that’s pretty amazing.

Now I’m settled into my seat on the train home and reflecting on the weekend past. I’ve been at a couple of days of yoga workshops in London and I’m in that post-yoga-intensive swirl of feelings (and haze of fatigue), and trying to process how I feel as well as order my notes to reveal what I think I learned, all the while wondering how I might take these teachings away into my practice and into my teaching practice. There’s also the slight disorientation and feeling of separation in stepping out of a closed room and away from a group of people I had quickly become very intimate with, a sudden familiarity with the breathing patterns, anatomical limitations, speech characteristics and coffee preferences of those people around me.

Whatever I learned over the course of the weekend — and I’ll only know that over the coming weeks and months as I see what it inspires in my practice — I have a sudden surprising sense that yoga could be much simpler than I currently make it. But I also have a horrible recognition that the work (you know, The Work, the inner work that relates only mysteriously and indirectly to the physical poses) — I have a horrible recognition that this work is a whole lot harder (longer and deeper) than I’d ever been willing to perceive.

As well as these tentative insights — the sense of seeing something not previously recognised in myself — I had a couple of other moments of ‘seeing myself’ which struck me.

I like to think I’m more comfortable with my physical practice these past few months; certainly I’ve worked hard at watching myself on the mat and trying to reconcile what I can see and the shapes I make with what I feel in my body. But I still had an ‘out of body’ experience this weekend, of the sort I liked to think I’d already put behind me. We were practising Vrksasana (Tree Pose). It’s a pose I’ve been struggling with recently. I jokingly think of it as ‘dead tree pose’ since I’ve been seeking some greater animation, some sense of energy and growing potential but instead all I’ve felt is stagnation and heaviness. As we practised in the workshop my focus was caught by the reflections of the group in the glass of the windows. I was captivated by a tree I saw there. Arms lifted overhead with palms touching it had an upward thrust to it like a rocket reaching for the skies, steady balance, and the lifted knee pointed out to the side without any disruption in the hips, just beautiful equal length along each side of the torso. I actually sighed out loud with longing for such an expression of the pose.

Of course, you guess — I realised that it was my own reflection I was looking at!

The other moment wasn’t seen by me but reported to me in the eyes of another student during later group discussion. We were doing subtle breathwork, an emphasis on breathing and feeling rather than reaching further into each asana. We took a series of simple shapes, culminating in Bridge Pose, the teacher emphasizing a complete removal of any tendency to strive and push and drive ourselves into shapes which were not supported by a steadiness of breath. And then he cued that if we felt that it would bring us joy, we could place our hands either side of our eyes and perhaps allow our body to lift into Urdhva Dhanurasana. So I did, because it was a Saturday morning, I was in a workshop full of teachers and feeling pretty darn good about being there; I felt alive and vibrant and strong. I rose up into my UD and felt beautiful there. I grinned upside down to myself. If I’d been at home on my own I probably would have hummed or sung a little in the pleasure of the moment. My body hanging in space, the front side from toes to fingertips willingly opening and drinking in all the weird potential of this shape. Who wouldn’t want this? But apparently I was the only person in the room to do this pose! This peak pose that I used to crave when it came round in class is now my thing, readily on offer to me. Time was when I used to have to hold my teacher’s ankles and was too scared for months and months to try the pose unsupported. Now it called to me as it apparently didn’t call to anyone else in this room of experienced practitioners and teachers. Given my usual hang ups about my physical abilities, this was a revelation to me. Not an ego-trip (despite my pose being described as ‘beautiful’…. 🙂 ). It was no more no less than a revolution in my body, where my most honest moment in asana practice was letting go enough to allow my body to expand up and outwards into this deep backbend.

I’m full of wonder at this possibility. My heart gives a little skip at the simple joy of physical expression.

But I was still a crying mess on the platform of the tube station when I thought back on this, and as I realised how hard it can be for me to allow this to happen. There’s some work for me here, for sure. So yoga could be simple as this moment of letting go… but it somehow isn’t. And my work is on figuring out how to let go of enough old heavy baggage that my body can rise up like this more often.

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