Hands down a great class

I went to class with my regular teacher this week for the first time in a month, maybe more. It’s strange that in pre-corona life I used to spend pushing 5 hours with him each week and now it’s down to one at best. And that hour feels a little painful — or least tainted. I notice I feel regret that it has to be this way, the sense of sadness impinging on the gratitude that technology afford us at least this possibility.

I note this and vow to practise with a lighter heart in future, fully to make the best of what we have! After all, he remains a wonderful teacher in my eyes — even when he’s behind a camera. Where I tend to make things harder for myself, he loves to make them easier for me. He simplifies when I always complicate. He is the remover of so many of the obstacles I trip myself up with in my practice.

This week he held pieces of paper up to the screen as he talked at the start of class. He showed us an outline of his hand he’d drawn in felt tip, then a circle imposed over it and a halo across the fingertips. It was almost childish in its simplicity. I started to feel impatient or a little patronised. Why is he taking so long on something so basic? Why doesn’t he just say ‘remember hasta bandha’ and move on?

Still, I enjoy listening to his voice so I was happy enough to follow his words. When we started moving, I paid attention to his instructions about even balance and keeping contact with the ‘full circumference of the hand’ at all times, whether in a pose or moving in transition, even in our basic exploratory first shapes. And suddenly what sounded so simple was revealed as not at all easy. After some minutes my palms were burning and tired, from the mental focus as much as the physical effort.

I always knew my attention to my hands was a bit sloppy and I rarely bother too much about correcting the habit of lifting palms up to step forward from adho mukha svanasana or the efforts required to stop rolling to the outer edge in bhjujangasana or bakasana. Now that this was the focus, I applied myself more consistently, chuckling when the old habits started to reassert themselves and using this as an opportunity to try to be more precise. I love the challenge of this detailed work and how it has a ripple-on through the whole practice, through the whole body. I enjoy the sense of calm satisfaction after a practice like this, when I’ve given myself over wholly to an idea, done my best with it, and I can then allow it dissipate, hopefully digested and internalised enough that I will make it my own when I come back to the mat again.

The next day I practised with some residual focus still on my hands. In my handstanding practice I caught probably the best (if tiny) moments of hang time ever, as my increased focus allowed me to observe the moment when I habitually shift weight fractionally into the heel of the hand. A micro correction now and for the first time I begin to feel how this shape might work for me, how the downward and upward energies might come together in perfect balance, how vital the fingertips are. After weeks of wildly kicking into the air, enjoying warm afternoons playing yoga shapes in the park with more enthusiasm than technique, I’m ready for some greater focus and discipline. Simple, but not easy.

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