30 April, 2013

Slow down and listen

Today was Gentle Yoga with Elizabeth McElveen.

It was good to be back home. It was good to be in Elizabeth's class. This was not a class with a lot of movement. We did a lot of listening. She had a lot to say, and there was a lot of Teaching with a capital "T" today. Sometimes it feels more like a workshop than a regular class. In fact, perhaps it's the difference between a "class" versus a "workout." A lot of the classes I attend don't feel particularly heavy on the teaching side. It's really an interesting idea when you think about it. We take a yoga class. There is a yoga teacher. The yoga teacher will tell their friends "I have to teach at 5:30 today." But what is going on with the use of that word, "teach?" There is a class. There is a teacher. There are students. Thus, the story is only complete if there is "learning." Well, we learn how to do the poses. That's true. But once we know how to do the poses, then, what is the learning? We learn how to breathe. We learn how to quiet the mind. We learn what are the important elements and subtleties of the poses. We learn what is happening inside our bodies and minds. There is much opportunity for learning, if there is an intention placed on it.

Elizabeth's conversation at the start of class today related to the idea that we so often jump into the classroom and just immediately start the poses, with no time or opportunity to really drop in to the moment. Sure, we start in Child's Pose. But can you really drop into the moment in 60 seconds? 5 minutes? Her classes usually begin with a story, or observation about life, and some aspect of where we might find interest or focus. These talks give us time to drop in physically to our own bodies. But they also give us a place to start connecting to what the intention of yoga practice is. The idea that we are here to learn something, ultimately about ourselves. And an essential piece, which she described, is "slow down and listen." And she spoke of the importance of this in all things, not just yoga.

In her class, we move more slowly. And I think I probably breathe more deeply. And I've noticed that it also induces a kind of panic in my body at various points in the breath cycle. I've experienced it at the bottom of a Low Plank, before moving to Upward Dog. And I have also experienced it at the end of a Sun Salutation, when my arms are coming back down to my sides after the final exhale. I feel like I want to gasp for the next inhale, beginning the next cycle. And I am sure this is not something to be ignored or glossed over. When I took a class with Troy about a month ago, he had us do an exercise where we would breathe in and out, holding at the top and bottom of the breath for an exceptionally long time - over 10 seconds at each end - to the point where panic was most definitely setting in. And he specifically called out that we should work past that panic, and not gasp too soon. Even the thought of it makes me start to panic. I didn't enjoy the exercise. And I wonder, what's it about? Is it about control? Is it about expanding our capacity? Is it about learning to be uncomfortable? Is it about recognizing that these states of panic are not "real" life-threatening situations, but just our brains telling us that we don't want to do it? Well, I suppose it's all of those things.

We didn't move much today, as I mentioned. At the end of class, I almost felt like I could take the next class, but decided that my body is always needing rest, and I have been tired lately, so I should act cautiously, remembering that lingering fatigue, and lack of sleep over the weekend, and go with rest, rather than pushing too hard.

I remain unsure what I am getting out of the practice, because, as I mentioned, I continue to experience the same challenges that I have experienced my whole life. I suppose that a difference is that I am recognizing more. But I am still not sure that recognition is a happier place to be.

There's a reason why they say that ignorance is bliss.

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