Last weekend, before school started back up, I had the opportunity to help out my teacher Jessica Wolf with one of her “Art of Breathing” workshops. I was her AV guy, running her powerpoint presentation and setting up the DVD player for her. I have taken this particular workshop with her before, so I could sit back a little and watch her work without being so concerned about absorbing new information. I find I learn a huge amount this way. I assisted my old yoga teacher, Robin Janis, in her Saturday morning level 1 classes at the Iyengar Institute in NYC for about a year and a half. I picked up more about teaching there than I ever did in a teacher training class.
In the three week break between terms at school, I did my best to keep my Alexander practice up. When I was in town I would do a constructive rest lie-down for half an hour every day, including some breathing coordination, and I would practice my monkey and hands on the back of the chair as often as I could. I let that slip a bit when I went to Mexico for a week, but I kept with my directions the whole time as best I could, even as I took a tumble off my bicycle on a gravel road and tore up my hands and bashed up my knee (more of that later).
Overall I thought I had been doing a good job until I walked into Jessica’s workshop. It was being held at ACAT, in the same room I had been spending three hours a day, five days a week for ten weeks studying and practicing. One look in the mirror told me how disorganized I really was. My neck was pushed forward in front of my shoulders, my head back and down on my spine. Back to my old tricks, pretty much. The thing I found interesting was how, the second I walked into the room, I had a sense of what was going on with me. And, without anyone laying hands on me, I found myself reorganizing instantaneously and effortlessly.
I found it so easy to do in that room. Is that because of all the work I’ve done in there up to now? This is a space in which hundreds of people have spent many hours over many years observing themselves, inhibiting their habitual reactions, redirecting themselves into more optimal organization. Is it the accumulated efforts of so many people that allowed it to be so easy for me in that moment? I guess the answer to that depends on how much you believe that a place can have an energy or a “vibe.” Religions go to great efforts to consecrate their sacred spaces, with rituals to cleanse and dedicate their places of worship. Behavior in such places is usually strictly regulated to set the stage and maintain the atmosphere of devotion, focusing the awareness and intentions of everyone who enters. That atmosphere can be so strongly imbued in a space that even non-participants can pick up on the energy.
I think this is something that we all understand at some level and make use of in our daily lives. A bathroom can be claimed as a space for relaxation and indulgence, a bedroom for intimacy and recuperation. My office, where I’m writing this now, is set up in the foyer of our teeny-tiny apartment. I’m surrounded by my books and have a bulletin board with pictures of family, loved ones and yoga poses on it behind my computer. I practice yoga in my minuscule living-room area. I move furniture to the side and pull out my props, and in that moment it becomes as atmospheric to me as a fully-equipped yoga studio. There is a power in a space that has only one purpose, however. It’s my dream to live in a place large enough to have a room dedicated to my various mind/body practices: somewhere I can organize in such a way as to have everything I need available to me when I need it; somewhere I don’t have to walk through to get to the bedroom; somewhere I can close the door on when I’m not using it, but know that it’s still there whenever I need it.