During the recent Critical Alignment retreat with Gert, when I stepped down from headstand earlier than “time up”, Gert asked “why did you come down”? I asked myself “Why” only to realise that I couldn’t find a rational answer that could satisfied myself. After years of practicing Headstand on Head-stander, the initial experience of excruciating pain in the shoulders which strikes every beginners has long diminished. The only solid inconvenience was the sore and achy sensation in the region of my upper back. I know well enough to justify that sensation to be an amazing indication of movement and release of tension in the upper back. And because upper back is the targeted area I wish to improve structurally in headstand, I know well enough whatever I experienced up there is a perfect chance for a change. But why did I stop that process?
One of the greatest gift that Gert, my teacher gave to me throughout these 3 years of his teaching in Malaysia is the ability to pay attention and to find out for myself the answer to my question.
Harken back to an old memory of mine when my son was 2 years old. Zen went through phrases where he could yell and cry nonstop on a daily basis which lasted for an hour or more. It all started when he began to fuss in every situation and then it snapped. Initially, we would distract him with every possible fun things around the house and after we ran out of things of distraction tools we would take him out for a ride. After a while, everything didn’t work anymore. He would go on and on and at that time, motherhood to me could equal suicidal. My cute little prince has turned into a screaming monster waiting to squeeze every inch of patience, tolerance, charm and wisdom out of me. I tried every comfort measure but even the Almighty God’s will could not quiet him down.
And one day, when everything else failed, I decided that I could just let him cry and measure in time how long could it last without my interference. Why not, since I haven’t heard of anyone being harmed through persistent crying. I was determined to reinforce my love towards my son and “go through” this with him. The next day, it happened again and he was inconsolable, began to howl and scream with all his might until there were occasions when neighbours started to knock at our doors to verify any possibility of child abuse.
After 45 minutes of crying phase, his behaviour became violent and began to take it out on me. This time, my Malay neighbours strongly advised that we should bring him to “Bomoh” (shaman) to get rid of some malevolent spirits or witchcraft that might possess him. Staying sane and rational was already a great Yogic achievement during that challenging time, greater than people who could go into full handstand. Well, first day, it lasted 2 hours without any distraction measures. To me, 2 hours of observation wasn’t that unbearable anymore.
The next day, it happened again, but it was 1 hour shorter in timing. Instead of being annoyed during the 1 hour crying phase, I rejoiced in the improvement and I was enthusiastic toward the next level of improvement. It went on less than a week and throughout the end, it stopped at the level of fussing, just when he was about to cry, he stopped. This episode takes 4 months for Zen to transform himself into a loveable cheerful angel.
Believe me, after that phases, no one develop stronger bonding and connection with him than I do. Without needing to speak, Zen knew he could trust me through every rough patches in life and I know I am secure in my role as a mother because I know him better than himself to guide him through bumpy times.
The only way I would justify to myself on the reason I was out from head-stander because of that urge to distract myself from the real situation of change I was in, just like when I was trying to distract my son with every possible toys. Gert called it stress response to physical inconvenience. When a teacher knows us better than ourselves, he would lead us to that edge, that crying phase and go through with us when things are at the edge of becoming something else.
That sneaky ego in the brain is not willing to go to that edge. The ego knows whatever I am going to encounter will not be a pleasant sight.
This brought me back to another experience on the back-bender. Being a Critical Alignment Yoga teacher, I have firm understanding on the subtlest part of my own spinal issue. The area in between the tip of my shoulder blades, in CA term is called “C” point, is the area which captured most of the tension in my upper back. It is the area behind my heart. I knew it better than any doctor can diagnose because, it is in this area that I feel sore in my headstand experience and this same area is pushing out the most when I lie on the rubber strip. And most significantly, the breath always escapes through the back route instead of nourishing the heart region at the front. Despite what many seem to think seeing at image of serenity by looking at the picture of someone on the back-bender, putting pressure on the C point combined with the connection coming from the arm, to me, was an unbearable suffocating experience. I was fearful and everything negative in the brain just sneaked in “hey, you are not breathing”, “emergency”, “you are going to die here”.
When fear comes, the body always takes the route to avoid further opening. I tried all possible ways to avoid coming face to face to that suffocating experience. I knew it was coming and the noise inside said, “Let’s rest the finger down, he won’t notice”, “shift it to another spot, maybe that spot need opening too”, “take a little bent on the elbow, no one can see” and the lists went on until Gert said “You are not practicing for me, you are lying to yourself”. Such escape strategies are adopted in other non-CA Yoga where you hold in your preferential shape, creating compensatory movement in all direction. I learned how I unconsciously attached to pleasant body sensation and at the same time profoundly out of touch with my body.
When fear dominates and creates all possible defence mechanism, the heart is not free even to receive the goodness of breath. I know the exercises is safe although the body shout “emergency”, I know that the facet joint is not compressed in that vulnerable opening on the back-bender, the benefit which is not available when you are in any backbend Asanas. I know it was a safe and good opening in that area I am stiff.
It takes a sensitive teacher to be able to acknowledge the existence of fear in us and pointing out to us the protective strategies that the brain may use. When you prevent the operation of defence mechanism of the body and block the escape route the body prefers to take, the noise in the brain will shout for a release. It doesn’t want the body to be there because it want to avoid the unpleasant edges. That’s why I released myself from the headstander, I gave in to the voice in the brain.
When Gert asked “Do you want to be here?”, it reinforce my authority over situation because that question offered me a conscious choice. And it give me great relieve because finally I found a solution so profound that I have all the tools to observe myself, just like when I stayed back and timed my son’s crying time. The same way when I tried to distract my son, because of that fear of opening to that anger and frustration in me when he screamed and yelled.
Just when I was available for my son when he pushed his edges, I am forever grateful that I feel protected over my emotional limit. In the back-bender, I see the fear shattered and our hearts are free to receive breath, to be angry, to be frustrated, and to express fear and sorrow freely.
It is after this year’s course with Gert that now I understand why some could cry on the thick roll during Gert’s class in Amsterdam. The expression of this sudden freedom on the CAT tools with a great teacher’s leading voice is the right recipe for turning fear into joy expressed in honest tears and involuntary laughter.
“Yoga should produce Yoga” was Gert’s word and now it comes with experience of its real meaning. You will know the bonding with your body is brought up to another level just like the strong connection I built with my son. You know you can trust your body to sail through the stormy waves of life. If some fairy God mother would ever grant me a wish, I wish everyone’s life through Yoga would be enriched this way and being a CA yoga teacher I am ready to plunge into another depth in my Yoga practice to be a laboratory for studying how me and others respond to challenging moment.
It is in the Critical Alignment I found the tools to uphold the integrity of Yoga practice by bringing Yoga to another level of realisation. Indeed, everyone should have the CA tools to make “Your body your psychiatric”.