To Boldly Go, With a Little Help from a Friend
by David Berson
Many people come to yoga with the image that it is about doing a variety of poses that develop flexibility and strength. While yoga classes do spend most of the time on poses and breath work, students also experience the calming effect of these actions. A fuller understanding of yoga is for the practitioner to move towards a sense of peace through out life.
I recently attended a weekend workshop with Rebecca Lerner, a senior Iyengar Yoga teacher. The workshop included both teacher training and several thematic yoga sequences. In the teacher training portion I was assigned to teach dropping the feet from shoulder stand down to a support, forming bridge pose. My additional assignment was to incorporate an item of philosophy into the pose I was teaching. The piece of philosophy I chose to include was one of the obstacles to yoga. In the Yoga Sutras there is the idea of fear related to self preservation. Such fear can hold us back from progress in our life’s journey.
When moving from shoulder stand to bridge pose we cannot see where our feet are relative to the floor. There is a natural hesitancy not to move towards a place that we cannot see. Yoga teachers are there to guide and assist students to develop confidence in the poses. This hesitancy is the fear associated with self preservation. We are concerned we might get hurt. Once a person’s feet find the support the uncertainty of whether or not their feet can touch goes away. Then the benefits of the pose can be enjoyed. The obstacle has been overcome. The pose has accomplished the objective lesson of moving past obstacles with the guidance of a teacher.
Later in the workshop Rebecca taught an advanced way of entering upward facing bow pose. In this approach one starts by standing up straight and then bending backwards until one’s hands are on the floor, behind the feet. I had done this pose once before in a prior workshop. That time another teacher stood in front of me. They used a rope to hold my hips and helped to slowly lower me back until my hands found the floor. This time Rebecca stood behind me. About halfway back, I realized that she was not holding me to help lower me. Instead she was guiding my shoulders and arms down. I experienced a clear moment of hesitancy. I wondered if it would be better, or even possible, to come back up rather than maybe fall. Because I had done the same pose in other ways, I had to trust that once my hands found the floor I would be able to support myself. By the time I experienced my fear, I was far enough backwards that I was committed to completing the pose. Sure enough, I continued further and my hands touched the floor. With both feet and hands pressing into the floor I was able experience the uplifting feeling of the pose. I had just experienced the same philosophy lesson that I included in my teaching assignment.