I trust my teacher. So when he gave me a ball at the start of our yoga session together I tried to go with it — even though ‘it’ was an excruciatingly awkward exploration of shoulder and hip mobility and how to connect the two. The ball balancing aspect added challenge, or focus, or maybe was just supposed to be fun..? We had been talking previously about innate joy in physical movement, and maybe this was his way of helping me experience that, outside the confines of a sticky mat and the prescriptive alignment of yoga poses. Hmm, more practice needed clearly! I tried to emulate his fluid movements when I got home, circling round the kitchen with an orange balanced on my palm. It was still excruciatingly awkward, but at least no-one was watching this time!
The following day I bumped into a student while I was out and we stood for some time chatting. I’ve not seen her for months as she always turns her camera off for zoom class, telling me she is suffering from anxiety. She was visibly shaking while I talked to her and I felt deeply for her. I’m glad she thinks yoga helps. I found it sad to watch and I wondered if I present such a miserable picture to my teacher sometimes, on my worst days of emotional discomfort? Or while trying to gyrate gracefully without dropping a ball…? I realised that as her teacher I make no judgment in seeing such difficulties. Perhaps some curiosity about the cause, but just a desire to help and support a student in some way. I suppose that’s how my teacher sees me too.
On into the weekend and a family visit. We walked around a local park and I marvelled at the variety of games being played by various groups of university students — lacrosse, touch rugby, croquet, tennis, cricket, rounders, frisbee… I am fascinated by watching people move and I could have stayed for ages observing them — the energy of bodies moving so dynamically, the effort made in pursuit of winning a game or scoring a point, the obvious skill shown. My sister-in-law asked me what each game was, telling me she didn’t play any sport growing up and had no idea about any of it. Her young daughter takes classes in dancing, gymnastics, swimming and karate and lives a very active life. So strange that the two of them, even in a single family unit, have such different physical experiences of the human body.
My sister in law has recently been diagnosed with MS. We talked about medical tests, the quiet deterioration in chronic illness, about the need for maintaining physical condition while respecting the body’s need for rest… I hope I helped a little, sharing something of my own experience of long-term illness. She concluded by telling me that I had the perfect way of living and did all the things her doctors told her to do — get outside every day, eat well, learn to rest, keep active, do yoga. In her eyes I am the model of good physical condition.
Everything appears in perspective. To my teacher, I might be awkward and tense and lacking in innate awareness of my body’s ability to move. To my sister in law I am enviably strong, flexible and fit. These different viewpoints are interesting to compare. But the only real perspective really worth attending to is my own. How do I see myself? How do I feel?
And this is the tricky question. From one angle I am immensely proud of everything I can do now and the new relationship I have with my physical body. But blink a little, turn a few degrees further one way and I’m back in the past, feeling tired, in pain, and generally diminished. It can be hard to maintain perspective.
After those ball games with my teacher a few days earlier we’d ended with a discussion of drishti in asana practice. It’s something I’ve become increasingly interested in lately. Would fixing my drishti help my alignment or my focus throughout practice? The technicalities are interesting and we talked about Nāsāgre vs Bhrūmadhye. But really the question I want to ask is: how can I keep my focus on the here and how, without being always pulled into the past? Maybe I need to change my perspective.
vastu-sāmye citta-bhedāt tayor vibhaktaḥ panthāḥ
“Each individual person perceives the same object in a different way, according to their own state of mind and projections. Everything is empty from its own side and appears according to how you see it.” Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras IV.15