Saturday, November 10, 2007


During the past few weeks I've been participating in a "Building Your Own Theology" class at First Universalist Church of Denver. I've been asking myself all sorts of questions about what I hold most dear, and how to live according to those values and beliefs. It is a rich process of exploration.

Each week, a participant shares a personal experience of realization or revelation or insight, known as an "Aha! moment." Here is the narrative I shared:

I was very nervous the first time I drove to Boulder, Colorado to take a yoga class from Richard Freeman at the Yoga Workshop. Taking class from him would be like taking a voice lesson from Pavarotti. He's the best. I didn't feel worthy or advanced enough to take this class, but I decided to anyway. I was intimidated, and I was also concerned that in an effort to proove myself, I would push myself too hard.

The class was "Mysore Style," which is different from most led yoga classes in the US. Each practitioner in a Mysore class does a certain series or their own therapeutic practice at their own pace, and the instructor circulates around the room, helping people individually. I was used to this style of practice, but I feel particularly vulnerable doing Mysore style practice with a new teacher who does not know my level of practice. Assistance from the teachers often involves pushing the student deeper into a position that is already challenging.

About 45 minutes into my practice, I came to my most vulnerable pose of all: Prasarita Padottanasana C. The feet are at least 3 1/2 feet apart, depending on your height, the arms are clasped behind the back, and straightened. Then, you bend forward at the waist and your arms descend towards the floor. People in yoga books and magazines can all touch their hands to the floor above their heads.

Teachers adjust this pose a lot, perhaps because the arms are such a convenient handle to pull the practitioner deeper into the pose. The shoulders, rotated to their limit, are very vulnerable here.

So, I begin Prasarita Padottanasana C, hoping, in the crowded room, to go unnoticed. I decide to go fully into the pose, bringing my shoulders to the endpoint of their flexibility. Then, I see Richard Freeman's feet approaching. I feel a gentle but specific pressure on my sacrum which seems to open up my forward bend a bit. I decide to surrender. I don't think Richard Freeman will dislocate my shoulders. I will trust.

But, he didn't push my arms towards the floor, as I had expected. I felt him gently rock my arms from side to side, and then my shoulders seemed to melt. I sunk deeper into the pose, painlessly. Then the teacher pressed lightly on my hands and I realized they were on the floor. I had no idea they had opened so far -- the position is disorienting. I rose up from the pose wide eyed and amazed. Not that I had touched the floor, but that the end point of my shoulder flexibility that felt so real and solid a moment before had been my own voluntary creation.

I left after practice, not feeling unworthy of going to the studio, and not feeling like I had proven myself there -- that didn't matter to me. I was simply excited and eager to find out what other limitations I was creating for myself. Which of my other certainties are actually illusions? What will the world look like as I let go of more and more of these mental, emotional and physical limitations?