Art therapy

I spent the afternoon with my ex-student-cum-yoga-artist today. She wanted to draw me in my practice, with time for her to really look at the shapes, learn to see the anatomy and capture the essence of the poses on paper.

So I put myself in her hands and asked her to instruct me on what she needed me to do; I was just a body for her to study. She was quite reticent at the beginning. I guess it’s weird to go from the position of student to being the one calling the shots. But once we’d settled in she was happy to ask me to hold postures. And hold…. and hold a bit more…..

Balasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Virabhadrasana 2, Malasana, Bakasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana….

And Savasana never, ever came!

While I took each posture all I could hear was the sound of her pens and pencils scratching over the paper, I could sense her alternately looking up at me and then down at the paper, capturing what she saw. It was strangely peaceful. In a sense I was performing yoga for someone (something I’m never happy doing!) but really it felt quite beautifully intimate and completely non-judgmental. I was aiding her study of the human form; I just took my best shape and dwelt there. I focussed on my breath.

But of course even in these quite moments of shared focus and concentration my mind started to wander. And with nowhere to go and no possibility of avoidance, I just watched the thought patterns, the regular narratives that tell me I can’t hold a strong pose, that my form is bad, that I’m all tense muscles and no inner grace. And like all thoughts if you wait it out long enough, they disperse of their own accord. Time expanded and contracted, my muscles strained and complained — and then they lengthened and found some greater ease, my breath flowed smoothly, the critical thoughts dissipated. Yes, even in performance conditions, there’s some yoga.

When she had literally run out of paper, we looked at her sketches together. She talked to me about what she saw: flow, and energy, and space, and inner beauty… It was like listening to myself teach! We talked about how we viewed the anatomy of each posture, where the balance was, where the effort, how the spaces around the body gave it form.

I looked also at the sketches she’d made during the class I’d taught earlier in the day. There was a little detail of a foot. And she laughed out loud when I correctly identified the student just from this foot. It’s a student who always sickles her feet in kneeling postures and in UMS. I think she was impressed that I saw this detail; I was impressed that her art had captured it, that this foot-shape had intrigued her.

This afternoon was some strange form of art therapy for me. Me being the subject of someone else’s study, trusting myself to her, allowing myself to be looked on, no place to hide and no excuses to make. I had to inhabit these expansive shapes and remain available there. And I need all the practice I can get with this, the ability to stand up to scrutiny, to remain steady and firm in myself. No fight or flight, just the continuity of being here.

Really I’m already looking forward to our next session together.

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