Updated: Apr 20
As some of you will know, this January I started an eight month yoga teacher training course. The first four day module was held in Soho. On my way there, I stopped to admire the Liberty clock above the archway to Kingly Street. I love the ‘sun’ clock face and the gold on black. I noticed the words below it:
“No minute gone comes ever back again
Take heed and see ye nothing do in vain”
A tourist sauntered through the arch but didn’t even notice the clock. She was about to walk past but stopped when she saw I was taking photos of it. She looked up. We smiled at each other and went about our different days.
I arrived at the studio in Kingly Court early enough to get a space in the front row, quite near the centre. I find I focus better when near the front. I was a bit disappointed to see so many of us. Around 30. I’d hoped it would be a smaller, more intimate group. On the other hand it's interesting to watch smaller groups forming and reforming. Contrary to my secret fear, I might not be the oldest student there after all. I'm not sure but it's definitely me or one other woman. The majority are in their twenties or thirties, a few in their forties and just two or three of us in our fifties and sixties.
Bridget, our teacher and guide, is the kind of person who makes you feel good just by being there. She's warm, funny, caring and quite possibly the most graceful and flexible yogi I've practised with. She is a living embodiment of Anusara Yoga and I feel very lucky to be learning from her. I like the fact that she's older than any of us. She is living proof that older doesn't mean weaker, less flexible or any other kind of 'less'. I am in awe of her. She's a total yoga goddess, a true yogini.
She was one of the original teachers of Anusara and has developed her practice over many years. Anusara, which means 'in the flow of grace', starts and ends with the heart. It is indeed a very graceful and flowing style of yoga, one that is kind and always inviting us to discover our best selves and the best in others.
Bridget’s class management was brilliant. She’s very creative in how she seamlessly shifts the group’s dynamic simply by moving from whole group (2 lecture style rows) to walking the room, bringing us in to a circle, forming twos or threes for partner work, group work, online work, homework, etc. She leaves groups and pairs to self select. She commented on day 2 that it was interesting to see how students had kept to the same places. Creatures of habit. After that, again she didn’t control who sat where, she left it to us.
I chose to keep changing places because I like the variety. I got me ‘around’ the room. I do have to keep trying to get forward though, because I often can’t hear from the back. I want to improve my listening by focussing and opening my ears in more challenging situations. Yes, I did say 'open my ears'. Yoga has taught me that this is a physical as well as mental action.
Bridget had four or five assistants in the room, I think they might be her advanced level students. The assistants are great. Always there to answer our countless questions, encouraging and supporting us in more challenging poses, reminding us to soften, sharing tips and things that have worked for them.
I’ve got to know a few of my classmates already. I won't use their real names here but if you're from our class you'll recognise yourselves. Or maybe not? Sandra is lovely and full of smiles. The 'amazon', let's call her Amaze, is glamorous and her leopard print leggings project a ‘tigress’ yogi. She’s strong, has an amazing physique and if yoga were an olympic competition, Amaze would be captain of the winning team. And yet… sometimes the cloaks drops and a kind and nervous girl says hello. Then there’s the humble warrior, Mary. She’s brave and strong, bubbly and friendly. Sylvie is the Audrey Hepburn of the group. Graceful, classically chic, kind and friendly. Jade reminds me of a lovely woman I used to work with in Singapore. She’s funny, thoughtful, very driven. A tough cookie with a heart of gold. Emmanuelle is very tall and slim. She’s boyish in a gamine kind of way. She's strong, self assured and first to speak up or offer. The more I carry on with these thoughts, the more I’m thinking I need to start a novel here…
The asana practices were quite varied, some very challenging for me in terms of arm strength like the handstand preparations or repeated chatarangas. I also found it pretty hard maintaining some of the poses for longer periods of time. The toughest, initially, was to keep comfortable while sitting on the floor for up to one and a half hours at a time. By the fourth day, I was far more comfortable and simply accepted that shifting from time to time was okay.
I reached crisis point on day 3 (Saturday). I had a raging migraine and typically this would have tobe the day we were practicing handstands. I did try. Twice. But my head throbbed and I didn’t trust my arm strength enough to fully extend my legs against the wall. Eventually I went to the bathroom. I wept hard silent tears. It all came out. All the self-doubt and anxiety about not being good enough. I began to wonder why I was so thrown by my headache and the handstands. Was my head hurting because I was scared? Me? Scared of being upside down? No way. I love hanging upside own, shoulder stands, headstands, just not handstands. It’s not because of the inversion, it’s because I’m scared my arms will give way and I’ll fall on my head. Understandable concern really, given I’ve had more than five head injuries in my life. I have to look after my head a bit better now that I’m older and wiser ;)
On Sunday, I found the answer to my ‘weak’ arms. They’re not weak, I’ve just been using them all wrong and in my case, that begins with my shoulders. Sunday was all about Muscular and Organic Energy. The breath feeding the whole body. Bridget explained it in a way I could really understand. The strongest metaphor she used was that of a wet suit. As we breathe in the skin tightens and holds the flesh firmly in place. The muscles hold and move in towards the bones, just like pulling on a wet suit. Breathing out the wetsuit expands and softens as the body 'drapes' itself over its strong framework of skeleton and muscle.
We learned about ‘spiralling’ in and out. I got glimpses during the practice of just how effective these principles of alignment are. How much less effort is needed when we use our inner muscles as well as our outer ones, when we use our breath to help align the pose. I didn't manage an independent handstand, but I did manage to hold a supported one for at least a few seconds before losing trust in my arms.
In the evening I did my own practice and it was then that all I’d learned began to naturally assimilate and work for me. I have a new skill and I'm having lots of fun exploring it.