One of the most frequently asked questions from guests here is about how amazing it is to practice with every single teacher on the schedule - 6 months of back to back (to back...) workshops. And yes it *is* amazing, and an incredible opportunity that I am enormously grateful for, but stop and imagine for a moment that this is what happens with your practice....
You meet a new teacher. You get two weeks of pretty intensive practice with them, meet a whole new group of people who you have a few days to settle in with and then grow used to sharing a practice space with, you hang out and chat together, share meals, sometimes go to the beach or out and about together, you take afternoon technique workshops and start getting in the groove with the teacher, the group, the assistant...and then after two weeks of practice you take Friday led primary together and then it's over. Everybody starts talking about what time their flight leaves, where they go next, the places they might visit, their plans for next year, and then they get their traveling outfits on and they are gone - and you are the one helping to organise their departure. Meanwhile a whole new group begins arriving, often crossing over in the middle, and your emotional response to the departing group, teachers and the sangha you have all spent two weeks building up has to be put aside to offer a big sincere welcome to the people climbing wearily up the stairs having travelled half-way across the world to begin a big adventure. And you spend the day helping them settle in, you shake hands with the newly arrived teacher, you have a few hours to rest and make your weekly skype call to your sweetheart who is waiting for you back at home, then you head back to the retreat and try not to completely mess up the welcome speech thanks to your nerves, and afterwards you try to calm down and eat some palak paneer while fielding questions and any late arrivals before you head to bed...ready for the yoga alarm to go off the next morning when you head down to the shala, so familiar and yet once again unfamiliar; a apace awaiting a whole new group energy, a new teacher, a new feeling.
No, really imagine it. A little bit challenging, non?
And yet (and yet) right at this moment, in the midst of the busiest handover day of the season, I feel nothing but calm and happy to be here. Yes there is a small degree of tiredness, and this morning I woke up longing for a cuddle with my 3 and 5 year old nieces, and now I sit writing this and waiting for my boyfriend to wake up back in London so that we can speak, but I am so outrageously grateful in this moment that any tiredness is worth it.
Of course it goes without saying that in a period of intense practice like this that there will be ups and downs, peaks and troughs, and as one of my co-workers said the other day in some ways we practice here in spite of all of the teachers passing through the shala. But after going through a period where I felt frustrated, exhausted and generally a little bored with my practice I am now in a period of profound calmness and clarity. I just got to spend two weeks with my teachers Kino & Tim, so having spent the past 2 years coming here as a guest for their retreat, this time around I got to take part in exchange for the time spent looking after the guests and my teachers themselves, and it was a pretty experience for me. I could sit here now and tell you all about how my backbends are, how kapotasana is going, or what either of them taught me in terms of my physical practice over the past two weeks, but it's more a case of what I was able to gain from further deepening my experience with them both, with the profound (or utterly banal) recognition of my own patterns (both healthy and unhealthy, mental and physical). And within this time there were a few important things I came to realise...
One was that I remembered what it means to find your teachers. Before their arrival I felt that I had a hundred questions I needed to have answered, whether I should be moving forward with my practice more, or taking less postures, or splitting off from primary, or giving up completely, but on day one in the shala with Kino every question just fell away. And then over the time they were here I started to feel desperately that I needed to have a conversation about my practice, just to be completely sure about where I was at, and when I asked then were incredibly generous with their time and gave me far far more than I ever could have hoped for. And after sitting down to talk and being told by Tim, very kindly, that in fact my practice is not actually that long, and that he can see now reason whatsoever to split me right now, I accepted 100% that he is right, and I stopped feeling sorry for myself about it. And when Kino explained that being able to jump into bakasana B or not is almost irrelevant in terms of moving forward, but the fact that I'm having a nervous system response to trying it is, I accepted that I am at exactly the right place in my asana practice.
And then I explained to Tim that after having a huge emotional response (read: in-shala sobbing) to his kapo assist one day, and deciding that I was too stiff to be assisted the following day, that I had discovered that in fact I was able to make a choice to NOT freak out when he helped me with backbends. In the moment that he instructed me to bend my knees deeply in assisted half-backs and he took my head to the floor, and then he had me walk in deeply on my last dropback as he straightened out my feet and then pushed on my hips for me to push back against him, I suddenly recognised that the hysterical (noisy & uncontrollable) breathing patterns I usually settled into when he was assisting me were a choice. And I can choose not to start them, I just had to trust him, and relax into it, and to engage in my core (of course!) and my legs, and just fucking surrender...and then it was all OK. And as I told him this Tim smiled, fist-bumped me and told me that that was the whole point of second series. That we learn to control our emotional responses, our nervous system responses, on our mat so that when we come up against difficult situations in life we learn to surrender, breathe, and work though them without becoming a shaking wreck. This was in fact exactly what Kino told me when I spoke to her about kapotsana back in London back in September, but at that point I was still consumed by the hysteria and couldn't see a way to control it, so the concept was nothing but abstract at that stage.
After this conversation with Kino and Tim I felt incredibly settled and calm, and that once again all of my questions had fallen away. They have each given me so much, so generously in terms of teaching and input, that I am left inspired to get back on my mat tomorrow morning and to continue to recognise the insights that my asana practice brings to my mental processes off the mat, and although it is very sad to say goodbye to them and the lovely group I shared the last two weeks with (and of course there were a few tears) I feel nothing but happy and peaceful as we welcome a new group to the shala to begin again tomorrow.