Old ways, new ways

I got out of town this bank holiday weekend for a workshop plus kirtan. I’ve kept my yoga experiences pretty close to home for some time now, since my last visit to a new teacher was a bit more than I bargained for. Long story short: it’s made me reluctant to leave the safety bubble of my local studio and my regular teacher’s class.

I voiced my concerns to him of being with an unknown teacher. I had been really excited when I’d signed up but as the time approached, I was getting cold feet. He gave me characteristic no-nonsense advice: to be a really clear with the teacher about what I wanted on the day and if that was no assists then I could say so. I almost didn’t believe him! But I’m trying to review my habitual preconceptions and try new ways even if (especially when) they seem impossible to my current patterns of thinking.

The workshop wasn’t quite as advertised and I started to feel a little disappointed that it wasn’t going to cover what I’d expected. Then I caught the old habit, a tendency to measure, evaluate and compare, and I wondered if I could choose to lighten up a bit and see what unexpected things I might have learned instead:

– First prosaic lesson is that the yoga business is tough. Even internationally-renowned teachers who own their own studio can only draw 6 students on a bank holiday weekend!

– Within this small band, my handstand to the wall was perhaps the strongest! Ha ha, I never thought I’d say that! Allow me the ego-driven comparison, please. For me it’s quite some progress to recognise what I am able to do in terms of physical practice. And the teacher had us come out just as I was starting to feel comfortable. The long holds and shoulder strengthening with my physio have clearly achieved something!

– Partner work is not so terrible! My partners were willing and able and it was enjoyable working with them, observing their bodies and ways of moving.

– The teacher’s assists were not as strong as I’d expected (feared) and it was interesting settling into the experience of a different pair of hands helping me and seeing what I learn from that about particular asanas and actions in my body.

– My teacher was right, of course: it is OK to say ‘no’. In the handstanding partner work I tried the exercise but it didn’t feel at all right to me in my sensitive shoulder so I pulled out without hesitating and told the teacher I didn’t want to do it. Big learning moment for me in recognising that I know my body better than anyone else, however experienced they are. And big learning that it’s OK to say no, even to the big international teacher. He comes from a school that I perceive as pretty hierarchical in student-teacher relations, but perhaps the next gen teachers aren’t so much like this…

– I was pretty proud of my ‘no’, in a weird kind of way. But I was more proud to be able to assist the least able/most novice student in the room with her first ever handstand. I learnt how to assist safely in this posture, and it felt awesome to help her and see how big the experience was for her. No to one thing can mean yes to something else!

– But really it was the philosophical teachings I’d come for. Initially I felt disappointed that there was no particular new knowledge here, no big reveal of the secrets I crave to understand 🙂 But sitting with a teacher rather than studying on my own was such a luxury. Hearing his ideas, his stories, his ways of understanding made everything so much more accessible and made me realise how hard a time I give myself, the high standards I always set. So instead of being disappointed and feeling I wasn’t learning new things, I found myself delighted by some small moments of clarity about the work I’ve been doing in my practice. I felt soothed, I could say. How do teachers just have that effect?

As always being with a different teacher in a new environment brings me back to my own teacher and the local studio and some fresh awareness of all that I am offered there.

A holiday is lovely, different can be good, illumination can come with novelty. But it’s nice to come home again and appreciate the familiar afresh.

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