I have a pretty good sense of what is going on in my body and I think a lot about what is happening in my spine, so it’s so wonderful when someone can help me to see or understand something that I haven’t felt before. This happened during my retreat experience in Ojai, California last week.
The retreat was interdisciplinary. I taught a daily yoga practice and yoga sūtras and Carol, my wonderful teaching colleague, presented the parts of the workshop on Āyurveda and the Alexander Technique. I didn’t have any experience or expectations of the Alexander Technique, though I knew it had something to do with improving posture and letting go of tension in the body. Carol did a great job introducing the technique and giving us ways to practice the principles of the method. We had language to help us remember and stay with the main concepts, and with the help of another wonderful AT teacher, we each received some skillful and gentle hands on work.
It was during this part of the classes that I had a remarkable experience. Itsuko worked with me and as she gently slid her open hand across my lower back, it was able to let go a little bit. It felt easier and lighter there. Her soft and skillful touch at the back of my neck let me feel that I could move my head forward and up and let go of some of the holding and tension there. I could sense the length come. And then her hand went toward my mid-back. She said something like, “you don’t have to work so much here” and I felt, for the first time, the reaching and straining that was coming from that place. I made some subtle adjustments and noticed the back of my spine round slightly toward her hand. This was fine and pleasant. Something also happened in the front of my spine. In a place tucked in behind organs and protected by the lower ribs I began to release. But this time I didn’t feel ease. I had the ache of letting go of something that I’ve been gripping for decades and whatever was being held in started to spread. I imagined a jar that’s been sitting at the very darkest spot under the sink catching years worth of drips from a very slow leak… I had knocked it over and it was spilling into me. I felt relief, but I also felt some sadness and confusion. I had to sit still for a few minutes and notice that.
There’s so much we can learn with the help of books, stories, self-observation and reflection. It is a valuable and essential part of the work that we do. But having the support and guidance of a knowledgeable and attune teacher is also very important – even essential. There are things that we can’t see about ourselves because we’ve been with them for so long that they no longer operate at a conscious level. Kind of like the joke where one fish asks his fish friend, “how’s the water?” The other fish says, “what the heck is water?” The help of a teacher or someone who can help us to see our own structures or patterns in a kind and truthful way is an invaluable part of our learning and growth. I’m greatful for Carol and Itusuko for being those teachers for me this week.