Training included study of the basic four pillars of yoga: philosophy/vision, path/experiential, practice/methods/techniques to help walk the path, and the results of the complete practice – enlightenment. Further exploration and learning about these four pillars would be integrated into every lesson taught. Each pillar was broken down into a variety of components to deepen understanding. The initial component of philosophy caught my immediate attention. It basically stated: Yoga happens when a person is ready to make some kind of change; what we believe about ourselves and the world is not necessarily true; and discomfort and suffering can be the push towards change. Right. This was why I was here, my increasing discomfort with my race through each day, used to avoid pain. This training was my step towards change. The basic philosophies of yoga sprinkled throughout the training would enter my awareness with recognition in my daily struggles over and over again.
We learned about the benefits of yoga – far beyond anything I had previously learned – and the movement from awareness to integration and to evolution. A session focused on increasing our self-awareness used body mapping as a tool. We worked in pairs to trace each other’s rough outline on body size pieces of paper. Then we individually used markers to fill in our outline with the colors that felt most representative of how each body part felt – like red for a sore knee or green for a relaxed foot. There were no rules. It sounded easy enough. I colored my hips purple, sore and tight from whole days filled with yoga; legs were calm and green; shoulders were tense and red. Then I arrived at the throat area. Red, yellow and orange set it on fire. I covered every inch, scribbled – hard – outside the lines. As my hand rushed past any plan from my brain, my heart began to break. Tears fell. Sobs followed. One of the instructors stopped by and looked at me with a kind but questioning look. I choked out: “I need to go.”, and ran to my empty room.
My first impulse was to eat something, to swallow down the storm that was rising inside. I picked up a granola bar but then put it back down without really knowing why. Then I fixed a cup of tea, but placed it back on the counter before sipping. I did not want to wash this away, knew I needed to let the sound erupt, open the door that had held everything in for as long as I could remember. I had always felt that if I started crying, really crying, I would never be able to stop. Now it was time to see if that was true. I sobbed and screamed into the pillow, at no one, at everyone, at myself. Was this the suffering that was driving me to run from task to task each day without stopping? Was this what was beneath the sense of doom that had prodded me to find my way here? It was hard to resist squeezing my throat shut to regain control of this passageway that kept my frustration, anger and pain subdued in silence. But I did resist. For the first time I could remember I let my voice, my true voice, rise from somewhere beyond the conscious control of my mind. This was not about being nice, being good, or even being angry or afraid. This was just about being, without restraints – from others or from me. I went on for a long time. It was not pretty. Sobs finally turned to whimpers. Tears ran dry. Moans become mumbles. And then it did end, on its own, without applying any restraint. I curled up in my bed and made a cave of the covers, then slept through the afternoon, through dinner and on into the night. My roommates checked to see that I was OK, but then allowed me to burrow away in peace. Peace. Was this peace?
The days continued one by one. This process was so much more than the yoga I had come to know. Learning the poses using this method satisfied my innate desire for precision and deep understanding. But the need for accuracy was tempered with acceptance that the result did not look the same for everyone. My body had always been rigid and stiff, much like my mother’s. My leg muscles were hard and strong making standing poses, like warrior or chair, my favorites. But the trade off for strength was flexibility, making forward bends and twists challenging.
Mid way through the training sciatica, that had plagued me from the time I was pregnant with my first child, visited with a vengeance. Acupuncture was recommended by one of my classmates and I found a practitioner nearby. This was a first. As the slender needles were inserted into key points in my legs, back, arms and hands I felt a tingling sensation. Following the treatment pain remained, but felt different – or was I maybe just more patient and forgiving of the body that carried me through each day? I gently eased through the next few days of training with increased awareness and appreciation for the concepts behind this therapeutic take on yoga – perhaps even more so than those who were not experiencing the reality of limitation. Not allowing myself to enter into pain to satisfy my ego moved me away from pain and back to my full capacity. My understanding had shifted, and I remembered a line in our manual, Integrative Yoga Therapy, by our teacher – Joseph LePage: “the ultimate understanding of life is not something we find outside of ourselves. The exploration of life is not something we stand outside of, but one in which we invest our entire beings in the moment to moment unfolding of inner and outer awareness.”
To be continued….