Listening to Chopin

I’m feeling a certain softness and tenderness towards myself these days. It’s growing a little within me. My teachers are inspiring some honest self-care. Not the self-soothing warm baths and small indulgences type of nurturing that seems commonly advocated in popular media but which I suspect has little to do with yoga. Theirs is a rather more grown-up version of care that involves some deep, steady listening, and the patient and attentive practice of allowing things to be as they are, with a dose of faith in myself that I will emerge from sorrows and pains in time. My perception of suffering will change, some healing is possible.

As much as taking counsel from my teachers (and learning to listen to what they don’t say as much as what they do) I’m also learning so much from my students. I’ve been teaching some of them once or twice a week for nearly 9 months now and we’re getting to know each other. They chat a little with me around class, offering up some reflections on my teaching or on their practice. Precious moments these, when I glimpse the world through their eyes and begin to recognise in their words something of what I perceive in how they are on the mat.

Observing their sufferings helps me practice observing my own, learning to be my own teacher a little, with the ability to see more clearly, to bring compassion and patience to myself just as I would offer this to my students. I notice I’m letting go of some of the frustrations I had been feeling about my physical practice. Why am I so uncertain in my transitions? Why do I feel such hesitancy in my asanas, always holding back, shying away even? Why do I seem to pick my way so tentatively, a manifestation of vulnerability and fragility, when I crave something more assertive and confident?

My current practice playlist is Rubinstein playing Chopin’s Nocturnes. This is music first introduced to me by a High School English teacher on secondment from the US for an academic year when I was 13 or 14. I was a troubled and troublesome teen and I regularly (I blush to say) played up so much in class that she would leave the room in tears. But sometimes she played Chopin during class (something a teacher trained in England would never do!) and at such times I was spellbound and therefore better behaved.

I’ve just bought a recording of Rubinstein for myself. As I listen afresh, I find it’s very different to the recording I’ve recently been more familiar with. The timing is exquisite. Rubinstein seems often to hang back a little, the tiniest of pauses that to my ear now are replete with possibilities, before the hiatus is resolved and the music continues. The thread between the notes seems tenuous, a slight suggestion that it might not hold together, that some other impulse might prevail that would leave the rest unplayed, unexpressed, the listener left unrequited.

And so my asana practice. Where once there was frustrating lack of commitment or insufficient courage, I now feel some delicacy and tender exploration. My hesitations are full of possibilities and nuanced emotion, not simply empty of power as I once felt. There is forgiveness in every inhale. Each exhale is rich with the yearning for freedom. Impatience has no place here. Timing is everything. The thread of my breath holds it all. Love and the miracle of living.

“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” – Rumi

To be alive, to be able to see, to walk, to have houses, music, paintings – it’s all a miracle. I have adopted the technique of living life miracle to miracle.”- Rubinstein

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