Beautiful practice

My Rolfing session today ended as it began with me walking around the room. At the beginning of a session it’s all about body observation, her watching my way of locomotion, how my body negotiates gravity and travels through space.

Specifically in my case, how I don’t use my toes when I walk, they are slightly held away from the ground all the time. And the effect this has on the rest of the body, a little rigid, lacking in movement. The stride is short, the hips don’t swing, the shoulders are tensed holding everything up, my gaze is lowered, maybe a little rounding downward. Ugh, as I describe it it sounds so ugly, so limited, so confined. My Rolfer tells me it’s a short step to old age in my body, to losing mobility in my joints. Yes, she’s deliberately trying to scare me!

And because she’s skilled at this and patient and loving, she offers me a reassurance and hope. She tells me I have a beautiful asana practice and that while I can and do practise wonderful full movements on the mat using all the available resources of my body, I also need to take that movement off the mat. I need to be this to be my way of being in the world. She sees no physical reason why not.

Of course, she understands there might be other, non-physical reasons. But we’re not having this conversation today.

And as I walked for her again at the end of the session she walked behind me, hands in my armpits telling me to let go my shoulders and allow her to take the weight from me. Just to walk with her. She propelled me faster, a little faster still, using her hands and body weight to swing my shoulders a little, hips following the pattern, pushing me forwards. We sailed around the room a few times like this until she pushed me off and I did a couple of circuits on my own. A small solo flight. I was grinning broadly, feeling my whole body acting in concert, knees lifting a little higher than usual, some fluidity in hips, shoulders rolling gently as my arms swung more freely. Oh, it could be like this? It felt so energetic and alive, but effortless as though I could just have walked out through the treatment room door and on and on. Striding out into the world, head up, body full of power. Ready for anything.

So it could be like this. The experience of almost literally walking in someone else’s shoes gave me a bodily understanding of the physical potential I have, rather than my habitual reticence. I have been exploring this tentativeness myself in my asana practice this year, recently going beyond simple still photographs to watching video of myself practise and move on my mat. It’s a curious experience. I watch such videos cautiously, tenderly, deliberately drawing on such love and patience as I rarely offer myself. There’s such evident vulnerability, the watching is rather painful.

Yet whenever my students comment on my asana demonstrations they sigh and talk rather wistfully about the grace and effortless beauty they see. They say it looks so easy and accessible that it inspires them in their own practice. 🙂 Do they see the same person as on my video? Perhaps not, actually! Because when I demonstrate I’m consciously doing it for them, I’m doing my best for them. To educate them, to give them the best sense I can of the ‘wholeness’ of each asana, the feeling of flow in the body, the possibility of transitions so smooth and quiet that the mind remains undisturbed and the experience unfolds ceaselessly, beautifully.

But when I practise alone, I’m practising just for myself. This sense of beauty may arise naturally, but I don’t trouble so much to cultivate it for just myself. I feel undeserving of such an offering. So maybe there’s the work for me for a while. To offer myself the most beautiful practice each time. To allow some blossoming to happen. On the mat. Off the mat. I find on reflection that I hold dearly the ‘beautiful practice’ comment from my Rolfer, even though I know this is, in part at least, just her rhetoric. But it’s not empty, she meant it as an affirmation to me, to encourage me to see myself this way. Maybe this should be my mantra?

Maybe it already is in its Sanskrit translation, loosely. Because I’ve deliberately been working this past month with Oṃ Namaḥ Śivāya. A slow patient chanting to encourage my inner light to radiate out.

Oṃ Namaḥ Śivāya. Oṃ Namaḥ Śivāya.

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