In the mid-eighties, before I practiced yoga regularly, I often sought the help of a chiropractor for a chronically stiff neck which was the result of a skewed pelvis. I awoke one day with paralysis. I couldn’t lift my head from the pillow, could not turn my head. My husband got me out of bed and I was able to get dressed and ride with him to the chiropractor who told me there was nothing amiss in my spine. He suggested I have a session with a fellow who was doing a new kind of therapy based on yoga and offered no further explanation.
Open to learning new modalities of healing but somewhat suspicious of a yoga therapy that would correct a phantom spinal problem; I agreed to meet the fellow in the office the next day.
I was greeted by a white haired fellow with a quiet demeanor who gave little explanation other than he would assist me in some yoga postures. At the time I was a dance teacher who inserted yoga postures into a balletic form. I was fit and extremely flexible. I thought I was very much in command of my body. It seemed ludicrous that this man who reminded me of the character Peter Sellers played in “Being There”, an innocent simpleton, could offer me anything and I was slightly annoyed.
He assisted me through a series of postures and with each posture he asked me how I felt. Then he repeated my words back to me. He urged me to come up with more than the first description. He kept repeating what I offered. It seemed ridiculous. As I remember it, when the session was over, he asked me how it went, wished me luck and said goodbye and not much more. I was dumbfounded. What was that! I wasn’t pleased with the chiropractor who set me up for this.
I went over the session in my head, trying to figure out what it was supposed to accomplish and was hit hard and suddenly with a realization about what had happened. I had been offered a physiological map of my behavior which explained why my body had refused to move. Every pose that was easy I described with words like, “stupid, unimportant and worthless”. Every pose that challenged me was described with words like “necessary or important”.
I never had another session. My frozen spine had already resolved more or less before I got there but more than that, I understood and have never forgotten what my body was screaming at me. That communication is as vital today as it was 25 years ago. I am hard on myself. If I’m not suffering, if I can’t FEEL, then I am invalid. So I beat myself up.
My body continues to beg me to listen. And I do. I have not forgotten. At a time when yoga was still a sleepy practice that held no attachments to brands or stars or money, I was lucky enough to have an experience with nothing to influence my impression. I believe my yoga therapist’s name was Mike. The name of the therapy was Phoenix Rising. Mike was not a star and certainly not the face of yoga that would grace a modern magazine but his gift was as great as any I’ve received since.
Yoga is ultimately about simplicity anyway. It’s about unraveling or undoing to get to ourselves. The Phoenix Rising session made me, and continues to makes me, aware when I need to strip away armor. That armor holds me to unconscious patterns that may have served me at one time but are no longer appropriate. Then there is physical pain. I revisit this lesson again and again.
Like many yogis, I can do strong physical work. I have mastered complicated postures. I meditate. I have knowledge of history and philosophy. But these things added to a being who is fettered with baggage can just add to the baggage. There is more than one way to clear the patterns that no longer serve us. The psycho-analytical profile I saw in myself thanks to that session came at a time when I needed a clear and immediate call to action.
My yoga practice continues to remind me to let go of what doesn’t serve me. Though I continue to place people in my life to assist me, they are a resonance of that first, pure, experience.
Also published on MyLifeYoga as “A Lesson in Deep Listening”