This photo shows one of my favorite moments in teacher training. I have a weird lack of space in the front of my right hip. Forever, I thought my hips were just tight. They sort of are but they sort of aren't. Yoga isn't a magic bullet to cure all, but it does provide great information to get more specific. My practice has shown me that my left hip is actually pretty healthy. On the right side, the piriformis muscle spazzes when I'm stressed and there's some type of tight block in the front of the hip. Because of this, I can't get sufficient depth in forward folding, which shows up again in preparing to jump back to caturanga (or not as the case might be) and again when drawing the knees into the chest for sirsasana.
Often, I feel self-conscious about these type of limitations. I'm a teacher! I should be able to do all the yoga! But that's nonsense. I don't know that anyone can do "all the yoga." Even if someone can do a lot of asana, the physical poses, more likely than not they're challenged elsewhere, say, by meditation or using the yamas in their interactions with others. If any of us are not challenged by an aspect of yoga, than it's likely that we're not growing.
While in training, I decided to not identify with the story of my limitations. Limitations are teachers. I decided to offer them up, expose them, and detach from feeling like they're a judgment on "me." I had come so far to study. Why protect my petty fears?
So I raised my hand and asked Teacher David to help me with this blockage. And he did! I have a prescription of laying on a chair for 20 minutes a day to soften up the front of my hips. Then, 100 breaths in pascimottanasana. Who knows when or if this weirdness will ever open up. The bottom line is for me to be persistent and consistent in working it. That's my job and that is an illuminating process.
You may have noticed that I'm trying to refer to David Life as "Teacher David." I'm seriously not trying to be a tool. Here's another thing I learned from him and the rest of the faculty: use honorifics with your teachers. Not for them. For you. All of these practices help us become receptive. I could be very casual about my teachers and with them but I may listen less closely when they teach me. A funny thing happens when you address someone formally. You sit up straighter. You listen when you speak. The practice of addressing him with an honorific that he likes is that I feel like his student and I feel like I'm showing him respect.
I know that in the West some of us cringe over this type of behavior. It can feel like ceding uncomfortably to authority or shedding some level of ownership over ourselves. My take is that it's pretty nuanced. I'm still overall anti-authoritarian. I still feel strongly that I need to be responsible for myself and take charge of my own life. But these aspects of myself can co-exist with deep respect for a teacher and a receptivity to their teaching. I don't have to sign away the deed to my house and all my earthly possessions. But I can listen. I can be respectful. And I'm better for the act.
Another piece of Teacher David's teaching: bring consciousness where there is unconsciousness. This teaching came one morning at breakfast. He asked those of us at the table if we knew why we were completing an assignment called "morning pages." Morning pages are the practice of writing what you're thinking as soon as you wake. When we were given the assignment we were told that it's good to wake thinking of the Divine, but that was all. We chanted all the time and often before sleep. I often woke with the chants on my mind, which felt pretty close to thinking of the Divine!
We all admitted that we really didn't know why past what we'd heard. Often in yoga the "why" is revealed in the practice. It's a gentle and subtle art of faith in process. Teacher David said that we are learning to bring consciousness when we are unconscious. The more intentional consciousness we bring the more we're able to be directive. He gave the example of Mahatma Ghandhi. Ghandhi chanted the mantra given to him by his Guru constantly so that he would turn to it in moments of crisis. When Ghandhi was assassinated, he chanted his mantra. This is said to be a very powerful act, as it helps the potent transition of moving from this incarnated form, prakriti, back to purusha. In moments of transition we offer intention.
Teacher David said that we could begin to practice this type of consciousness by trying to still our mind on the Divine, and cultivate that eka graha, one pointed focus, as we fell asleep. Ultimately, we try to develop consciousness in our dream state to again focus the mind. In this way, we are always connected to the Divine.
This might all sound really esoteric and woo. As with all potent teachings, it's also really practical. We often are incredibly unconscious with our bodies. We plop ourselves into a seat. We throw our limbs around and knock into things or trip. Yoga helps us develop consciousness in the body and move with intention. What if we always moved through space with great awareness? If that type of awareness was not effort but simply permeated our existence? Then the mental consciousness might feel like an integrated extension.
What if I move with consciousness into that funny tension into my hip? And if it softly opens? And I still my mind? Well, I think only good could come.