I started learning advanced with Dominic six years ago. Yesterday in his room, I did that same practice – same as I’ve done every weekday since – while he held space for me and my students. Then we drove to Detroit. In the passenger seat, he talked about how ashtanga works primarily in the field of the subconscious, about the legacies of Ernest Rossi, about when to speed up or slow down in the process of carving deeply into the nervous system. The light in the falling leaves was perfect. Then we went to a museum and looked at a towering Giacommetti, an ironic sculpture of a wooden motorcycle (vroom vroom), old suits of armour for (tiny) Templar knights, and Diego Rivera’s frescoes of the auto industry.
Reposting this for those who have been talking with Dom this week about the subconscious and who would be amused to read from the archives. When I wrote this, I was just beginning to suspect that nonverbal instruction was more powerful than what the vinyasa scene to offer. But I really didn’t get it yet. I was still dazzled by yoga words and yoga ideas.
FEBRUARY, 2007. LOS ANGELES.
I just transcribed my notes from last week’s class observation. When students were in a wide-legged forward fold with heads approaching or on the ground, the instructor said this: “Lift your thighs as you press the feet down. Dig the shoulderblades in toward the chest and, if you want come into tripod, come on up. Stay with your breath: the quality of your breath is the quality of your practice.”
With that unremarkable, almost parenthetical suggestion, one of the visiting dancers (whose 15-minute solo to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring on Saturday night at UCLA put my date in near-ecstasy, though I found it it was a little emotionally overwrought) lifted up like nothing into a headstand.
With apologies to third-rate 1990s anthropology (the “texts read us” school), the action did her. It was at least as natural as breath. I wondered for a second if my friend and teacher T was doing a Milton Erickson number on the class or had spent some time with the offspring of the genius. (That would be Richard Bandler, who turned neuro-linguistic programming into something unhelpfully interpretive, John Grinder, who used its magic for ill and destroyed himself, or the next generation like ultimate lifecoach Tony Robbins, who has distilled NLP technology into riches and cheese.) NLP, which builds on hypnosis, the practitioner’s intuitions, and the beauty of the possible, is a way of getting people out of their own way. It shortcuts our dumb cogitations and resistant-tense realities by integrating radical suggestion so into the fabric of taken for grantedness that we act upon it. Through this radical, unselfconscious action, we change our meager selves.
Echo that this morning, when I was instructed to take up “Siva’s terrible aspect,” a posture in honor of the diety’s skull-amulet-bearing, fratricidal side.
Before putting myself into bhairvasana for the first time today—or rather, letting it take me into itself with another’s guidance—I had feared that it would be something of a long, slow trainwreck: a daily undertaking that could open up my sacroiliac joints to an unsustainable gape. Make me a bag of ligamentless bones by 50.
A year ago, maybe; but my body’s been tilled for for this and it’s simply a nice, new little habit that takes me to a previously unknown part of myself.
I can say this only because the way the posture was given made it second nature, if not downright natural.This is because my teacher understands the power of suggestion, and how to relate with a student in or near theta state to create an easy and beautiful reality out of our weirdest possibilities. Not only is this teacher on to the NLP (a comment about establishing rapport the first day made me suspicious), but he just doesn’t complicate the yoga.
It’s so easy for any teacher to revive and rehash her own students’ resistances to authority and needs for attention—the dynamics we learn with our first teachers, our parents—into the learning relationship.
This bit of baggage can be incredibly subtle, present in even the most beautiful student-teacher dynamics. Even after years of observing and draining the blood out of my bodymemory of being an authoritarian-preacher’s kid, I sometimes feel these seeds sprout up as I interact with my gracious mentors, or sit one of my own students down in my university office.
But this morning’s teaching was uncomplicated with such stumblingblocks, with which we sometimes decorate reality so-defined. This is a gift, one this particular teacher both exhibits and bestows.