Monday, September 22, 2014

The Arc of Human Change

 For many years now, I've been toying with the idea of going back to school (again!). This time instead of completely changing course, I'd like to gain the skills that would enhance the work that I already do. I've been reading up on somatic psychology and specifically the Hakomi method. What intrigues me about this work, perhaps, can be summed up in this paragraph:

The Hakomi Method of Experiential Psychology offers an elegant, comprehensive and highly effective approach to human change. Hakomi combines mindfulness, unique and powerful somatic techniques, and a focus on present experience to access and transform deeply held, life-limiting core beliefs.

Sound familiar? This is the work we do in our Yoga practice: dismantling our self-limiting beliefs one by one. The beauty of it is that for the most part, this process happens spontaneously; the work arises when we are ready. Sometimes the work hits us over the head like a hammer, and other times, we recognize it in hindsight, as a slow and gradual shift in perspective. It's what keeps me interested in both teaching and practicing, this noticing and dismantling of patterns and conditioning. And of course, when working with the emotional body, the terrain can be rocky at times. I think at some point, having more specific training in the ins and outs of the human psyche will be hugely beneficial to me and my students. For now, I'm in the research phase...


Speaking of the desire to be an eternal student, I recently came back from working with David Garrigues for the second time in four months. I went back because I knew that he could spark a fire in me so bright, that it would enable me to shift my own stubborn 'life-limiting core beliefs.' Every great teacher has a very specific gift, and I found David's super-power to be his ability to empower his students through intense and difficult work. Being a home-practitioner, I NEED this kind of work. I need enough heat a few times a year to carry me through those cold, winter mornings when everything aches, and the last thing I want to do is get on my mat. I need it when, like a few days ago, I get on the mat and all I hear, before EVERY pose, is the taunting voice coming from parts of me I do not recognize, saying 'YOU cannot do this'. I need the fire when I've given all I've got to my students and am sitting empty, in a puddle of self-pity. That's why I went back to David. And I am not being melodramatic when I say that the way he worked with me in backbends changed me.

*photo taken on 9/12.

Let's get clear about this: the poses are mere symbols. On my deathbed, I will not be proud of my backbends. But I may reflect on how I related to someone important to me, or, took some risk that went against the grain of my conditioning. This is how I see it: if I get stuck in the idea that my backbend is the end point, then the process of 'human change' has in a way, been aborted. But if I come up against what I believe about my backbends, and with an open mind and a whole lot of hard and sincere work, challenge my 'self-limiting' beliefs, then maybe I will set a new imprint, a new precedent, a new possibility for change. And maybe the next time I am in relationship, and I see myself as this, and I see them as that, something inside me will know to not take my position so seriously. 

That is the hope behind practice for me. Which is why I believe in Yoga as a transformational practice, beyond the physical.

For the longest time, I believed that my backbends were as deep as they were going to get. That because of my long legs and short torso, my body had no room to bend more. That I had tight hip flexors.

That my backbends were just fine.

That I was doing my best.

Until, David got to working on them. In a space of one week, my body was transformed. I'll let these photos speak for themselves. What is even more exciting than the arc of my back here, is that I have had no pain! No sense of cranking, no pushing, only a wonderful sense of moving into space. It's as if this is who I've always been, and I've just decided to step into it. I had to allow for the possibility that maybe, I could create space in a new way. That maybe, I didn't already know everything that my body is capable of doing. In order to open, I needed to let go of my own self-image, my same-same way of doing things, my rut.

And this is why I love this work: David did not do my backbends FOR me, he gave me the tools and the inspiration to work at them, and I made the choice to practice them. Transformation is mostly intentional, hard work. No one else can do it for you; there are no saviors, no heroes, and most of our gurus are dead. We can light each other's fire, but in the end, it's up to us to keep it aflame, through practice.

As hard as the work is, the payoff is priceless. There's an incredible feeling of relief when we inhabit the space inside of ourselves, and no, I am no longer talking about backbends.

*The first photo was taken on August 17th, and the second photo on September 22nd. Look at how the curve has moved out of my lower back, and how my legs have become more involved. I think I even look taller!