Tuesday, July 14, 2009

142/195 - Magic

6:30 pm with Libby

Class with Libby is always challenging and usually fun. Today there were a few moments that stood out. In one of the Savasanas, I think maybe the first, she asked me if it was a bit cold in the room. I thought it over, wondering whether I should own up to it, and she obviously saw the gears working in my head, so I nodded and she just smiled already knowing what the answer was from the way I had thought about it.

Earlier, after first set of Triangle, I took a knee. And just as I hit the ground she said: "But Duffy, I was going to give you such a good compliment in the second set." So I got up again, and then spent some time wondering whether the compliment was worth the extra effort.

I also realized something about my preference for teachers last night. Basically, I like any teacher who has some personal interaction. So, my favorites are the ones who are constantly correcting, praising, giving encouragement, massaging, etc... And it doesn't have to be directed at me. The interaction doesn't even have to be verbal. Eye contact, a smile, walking around the room, simply reacting to what the teacher sees by some change in delivery, even if its just tone of voice -- all of that is good in my opinion. The only thing that really starts to bug me in a teacher (and fortunately there is very little of it in our studio), is one who sticks to their own script, where the words, the tone of voice, and everything becomes so predictable that it no longer seems to matter what is actually going on in the room.

Another thing that was amazing about tonight's class: we had 6 first time students and 4 on their second class. As far as I could tell, this was a very unusual group of newcomers. Most of them were behind me to my left. But there were no waves of dropped bodies, no excessive sighs or moans. No dashes for water in the middle of balancing poses. The energy stayed high, and no-one was sucking it away. That's very different from the other classes I've had with multiple newcomers.

As for the poses, I started off pretty well. I had told Libby I was probably just going to take a 90 minute nap, and she said OK, but don't snore. Instead, I did a respectable class, missing only one half a set of Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee, and then missing the third part of locust and a set of Full Locust (I had a very late lunch because of a meeting that went too long, and had some reflux problems as a result.) Triangle probably earned the compliment I got. Libby said after class I was getting a really good reaching stretch with my arms and chest. And I got a nice compliment in Standing Bow as well. Everything after Full Locust was very good.

The day 194 meditation begins with a quote from a teacher who talks about how yoga brought magic back into his life. Gates says that that magic is our own divine spark, and that is what we come to study when we are on the mat. I'm not sure I agree. (I wonder if the teacher would agree with Gates' interpretation.)

In Bikram, we are told again and again about some of the "scientific" explanations for why the poses work. One that we hear over and over has to do with the tourniquet effect. We cut blood off to an area, then let it rush back in, and that has a healing effect. I don't put too much stock in these explanations. First off, there are lots of ways to get the tourniquet effect. Applying a tourniquet comes to mind. But I seriously doubt that applying a tourniquet would have the same effect as the asana themselves.

For me the benefits from the asana are both magical and scientific. They are magical in the sense that I really explain why they work. A friend who had flat feet since early childhood now has arches. The bunion on my right foot is disappearing. A guy in our studio has arthritis so badly in his back that his doctors say he should be on painkillers basically all the time, and he shouldn't be able to walk. And I'm not getting into things like the impulse to behave more honestly, or the shifting in food preferences that occurs. This stuff is quite obviously magic, or at least magic in the same way that a hummingbird flying is magic. There's no really good explanation for it.

But its also science, because it works and it works predictably. What's lacking is the explanations for why it works. Western medicine has been involved primarily in two things: studying sickness and cutting up the dead. As far as I know, there has been very little work done on the study of health. Yoga is a system devoted to health, a system that has been refined over centuries based on what promotes health. That's a different kind of science, and a type that we tend to disfavor in the west. So it's not surprising to me that yoga seems like magic to us.


hannahjustbreathe said...

Hearing about the medical benefits is one of my most favorite parts of the dialogue. I love when the teachers talk about the organs and glands I'm compressing, stretching, cleansing. I've often thought the thing I'd enjoy most about teacher training is learning about how Bikram yoga *really* affects the body.

All that being said, the physical health benefits are, for me, just the cherry resting atop the emotional/mental/spiritual benefits. That's the true magic, in my practice anyway.

Duffy Pratt said...

Of course I agree that the non-physical benefits are also magical. But then again, the spirit itself is a kind of magic.