parallel paths

As I mentioned here, my last few weeks being immersed in teaching self practice have led to several new ways of seeing the world around me. The more I practice and the more I teach, the more I realise how far reaching the practice actually is (or has the potential to be for those that want it so) and the more I realise it’s not actually really about the practice. There’s something much bigger going on. I find myself seeing it as a microcosm of life – of relationships, of problem solving, of kindness, patience, feeling, sensation. Of love. It is a practice of integration. Or, as a dear friend and fellow ashtangi and I decided the other day, yoga is an operating system. IOS yoga.

For many years I felt I was simultaneously on two paths – my work in addiction and my path of yoga, first practising and later teaching. An interesting side note about my drug and alcohol work is that in a similar vein (no pun intended) to the yoga, it is paradoxically not even about addiction at all, I never even speak about the drugs or the alcohol in my work with ‘addicts’. Anyway, I was comfortable with these two separate paths, “I’m a Gemini”, I told myself, “I can hold two things at the same time”. There was some truth to this but the further I travelled down those paths, the more I realised I wanted them to converge and as the years passed, converge they did. There is an exciting synergy happening now as I bring the world of yoga into my daily work (by which I don’t mean doing yoga with the ‘addicts’ or breath work – yoga’s not about the yoga, remember?) and I bring strands of psychotherapy and my experience of the last 11 years doing the work I do into my teaching of yoga, most probably the ability to develop rapport and trust and intimacy with people but also the experience to ask the right questions at the right time that hopefully lead to the lightbulb moments that can shift a person’s practice into another gear.

Rather than making this into one huge blog post, I want to take one insight at a time, about the parallels between these two paths, dissect each one a little and devote to each the attention it deserves, posting each separately. Theme of today? Adjustments.

People familiar with me and my teaching style know that I adjust a lot. I also know when to back off and just allow someone to be in the practice and flow without getting clamped by arms and legs in every pose. But I love to adjust and I would label myself as being a very hands on teacher. In the health and social care field there exist the ‘PSIs’ – the psychosocial interventions. The verbal interventions made with clients, the interactions a worker has with them in one to ones or groups, or even when having a cup of tea together, that on the surface often look very much like normal conversation (if done well) but in reality are grounded in a particular psychotherapeutic framework. The framework provides a structure to move within. It creates boundaries, parameters, and ultimately safety. I see the practice of the ashtanga sequences as being parallel frameworks we operate within for a particular purpose. More on that in another post.

Interventions to me are in some ways very similar to the Zen concept of Koans (the classic being ‘what is the sound of one hand clapping?’), intended to bring about a moment of clarity or understanding. Something clicks. I see adjustments as mirroring this. Not because things often literally click in the physical adjustments themselves (somehow as satisfying for me as I hope for the student being adjusted), but because an adjustment done well can show what a person is capable of, something they may well have not realised before. It can show them the potential of a pose or a way of being in a pose that they often don’t realise is possible, usually because cognition and stories get in the way (“my arms are too short” or, as I heard the other day – “my nose is too big”). Even if they can’t initially achieve the same level of depth alone that they may have experienced whilst being adjusted, it shows them and (subconsciously) programs into their brain that eventually it is possible. Interestingly, it is hopefully at this point that a student realises that if their body can go there, then it’s their mind getting in the way and it is that which needs to be addressed. Most students need quite a lot of prodding to head them in this direction but that is part of what I see my role as a teacher as being.

Some of my favourite moments when working within the charity are those moments in group when I can literally hear the sound of pennies dropping all over the room, some heavier than others. These are the lightbulb moments that lead to an evolution of some kind, a seeing that from then on can’t be unseen. The forging of new neural pathway begins. A similar thing pleases me hugely when teaching or adjusting – suddenly something becomes clear, the impossible becomes possible and often accompanying this is this simply beautiful glow from the person because it just felt so damned good. These are just some of the many moments I live for in my work.