Cues were called out across the room – I eased my left knee to unlock and move evenly, bending to a right angle to the floor, my trunk faithfully followed in concert while rotating to the right to face the wall…right leg now fully extended and the right edge of the right foot seeking the floor.
Not surprised, I felt the rising of familiar lumbar twinges: borne of old age, arthritis and misadventures of youth, these twinges signalled me to recruit some more strength in the legs and draw in the abdomen muscles for more support.
The teacher’s (Celeste) instructions wound their way into my ear “rest your left arm on your quad and bring your right arm in a long line over your head pointing to the front of the room”.
Accurately called “extended side angle pose” there are angles and forces everywhere….like a suspension bridge with taught lines pulling together to bring stillness, so do the left and right leg.
I’m a little fatigued from earlier postures, the breath catching, not flowing, and the jaw fixing in unspoken determination. The tight jaw is barely discernible because there is so much going on in the posture.
But the jaw tightness is absolutely there as if about to grind down HARD on some meat or bone — something to be endured. This micro-moment of drama is just one in a symphony of dramas happening in every moment – we would go crazy if we were awake to it all the time. No wonder we bury ourselves in mental activity!
Don’t believe me? Ever heard the saying “Walking Is Just Falling And Catching Yourself”? If you observe the physical drama of walking mindfully you will realize the complex interplay of tensions and relaxations that ebb and flow with each step – one thing goes wrong and you face-plant – that’s high drama!
Back to my drama: In the very same tight-jaw moment, there is a mix of unwelcome discomfort** and an emerging bliss intermingling along my right torso – the lengthening of my right arm extending skyward pulls on some muscles connecting into the butt – these muscles have something to say AND they are not particularly happy.
The body is a homing missile for comfort and takes solace in allowing a little weight from the left arm to rest heavily on the left quad – its a momentary micro-holiday.
“Remember sthira and sukha – – – strength and ease….”.
Celeste’s reminder is welcome, with just a short verbal prod, the body shifts and adjusts – a little more pushing up from the left leg, more extension to ground the right side of the right foot flat, extending the right arm just a little more as if in anti-gravity.
Looking down I see an old friend – a sure sign of too much sthira in the form of striving.
My left arm, hunkered down on the left leg, is taking weight with the fist curled closed in determination.
Instantly, an association rolls back over me – several years ago in the very same posture in a class in San Francisco my teacher dismissively flicked my fist whilst walking past – and just called out “thats ego maaaan” – it was shocking and funny.
Great teachers have different styles but they always have the student’s journey at heart.
Nowadays everyone is so “woke” that my teacher could be accused of being obnoxious, entitled and abusive, but on that bright crisp Saturday morning, it was the right style for me – just as Celeste’s gentle verbal cue today was “right” teaching style for me. Two teachers working together helping me to be in the moment with both strength and ease.
I let my fist unfold and wrist slacken a notch, the posture now less “manly” but the feeling of the softening flows like a wave through both body and being – I’m now more present with a breath smooth, un-caught and flowing instead of being locked. I’m now more whole, more ready to move to the next part of the posture – Utthita Parsvakonasana which requires more strength and more ease.
Lesson: respect for teachers
This world conditions us to be wary of charlatans and predators. In yoga and spiritual schools there have been many justified scandals.
For me, I’ve mostly been skeptical of “teachers”.
One friend of mine, advised startup founders of their mentors. “They are just a few mistakes ahead of you”. A perfect aphorism for our time : to drop your skepticism, not worship your teacher, accept their humanity and trust that they want to help you on your journey. We should always respect that in our teachers.
Of course our friends, family, co-workers are all teachers to be thanks too! 😍
Lesson: Yin/Yang, Sthira/Sukha, Law of 3, Drama
In the diagram above, the ancient symbol of Taoism shows the interplay of contrasts (not opposites):
The edge upon where this interplays is the stuff of a rich life:
- Walking and falling,
- the moment before writing the first word on the page,
- the stroke of the sumi-e brush,
- the stress/acceptance when dropping into ocean water.
We don’t need to make up dramas for ourselves when loving enough present moments to get your drama fix.
One teacher said humanity was “third force blind”. I won’t pretend to know what that means but it’s clear that the fabric of every moment is woven with opposites (like a suspension bridge). Here, in balance, for the alert, is the potential to create something new to emerge.
If we are in tension with another person, task or posture; then “a-tension” (attention), awareness of the interplay of forces and compassion is the playground of creativity.