My husband does this hand gesture: palms pressing together then opened out, like the pages of a book. He uses it to signal to me I don’t need to tell him anything more: he knows exactly what I’m thinking. Darn, he’s usually right. He knows me so well.
Although I love him and happily share my life with him, this gesture still makes me feel a little uneasy. Do I want my thoughts and emotions to be so transparent, even to my life partner? Would I prefer to be a little more mysterious? Inscrutable even? Yes, at times it’s nice to be understood and recognised for who I am, but being an open book also makes me feel a little exposed, even with someone who is 100% beside me.
This week my teacher spookily seemed to read my mind too. It was one of those classes where everything seemed to be said directly to me, because it answered so many of my thoughts and questions and confusions. Clearly my teacher’s yogic superpowers extend to mind-reading! 🙂
He began by talking about Siva and his own journey of understanding of Siva’s powers, with a subplot about how scary Siva can seem and how difficult it can be to accept the destructive quality of Siva as a positive force for beneficial change. It was big existential stuff and it threatened to overwhelm me by the grand scale of Life and the contrasting smallness of me within it. Yet I was also slightly laughing inside at how much his story mirrored my own and I thought back to the phase I had when I used to get stuck half way through chanting the guru mantra, needing to pause, collect myself and take a deep breath before guru devo mahesvara, calling upon Lord Siva.
My body is feeling terrible on this day, and although through the asana sequence I try not to avoid the intense sensations, I am nudged several times into a truer alignment. My teacher talks about embodiment and proprioception I consider these ideas in those nemesis backbends, the postures I begin to realise are less about spinal flexibility and more about open-hearted willingness to face everything, past, present and future.
I continue wondering about the physical embodiment of such willingness and presence as we take Supta Matsyendrasana. This is a stark posture for me, where there’s nowhere to hide and everything feels revealed. The sensitive space along the collar bones is exposed, my breathing apparatus feels vulnerable as though my lungs are outside my body. With arms out wide everything is laid bare. The hold seems long today. One side, then the other. “Stay with it” I hear several times, coinciding exactly with the moments my fear rises up and my heart begins to race. Every cell seems to quiver, with the desire to run away, to avoid this openness. As we leave the pose and my limbs are untangled, escape seems more physically possible, but my teacher gently presses his foot onto mine and I’m lightly held captive. Instead of fluttering madly like a butterfly in a jam jar (which is how my racing heart feels), I coax myself to settle, I let myself be soothed by this gesture. It’s like my husband’s open palms: I see you, I recognise the fear in you, but I look beyond it and I know you can too. om namah sivaya.
In the final postures of class when we’re coming to the close, my body settles into quieter shapes with longer holds, and my breath slows down. I feel more malleable; my muscles softer, heart lighter, thoughts slower. In those fragile spacious moments when new possibilities are often suggested, my teacher talks about living with fear and resistance, about habitually fighting against change. I don’t remember quite what he said (my brain was in end of practice slo-mo mode) but his words seemed to describe my own feelings — my yearning to let go of resistance to change, the tiny glimpses of another way that are revealed when I let down my guard, when I soften from bracing against an imaginary threat. I become uncomfortably aware of the depth of shame I feel that I’m not somehow a better, more willing yoga student, and I feel a huge embracing wave of relief that I might not be the only one who feels so awkwardly resistant. I am immensely grateful to my teacher for voicing something of his experience in the intimacy of those pre-savasana moments and I am humbled at how potent the honesty can be between teacher and student.
Maybe in those slowing moments, surrounded by other students, watched over by our teacher, I momentarily embody that openness and release from fighting that I yearn for. Perhaps there was a little Siva magic in the air then and all I had to do was breathe and invite it in. Perhaps it’s always there and that’s all I ever have to do?