If I stand on my back deck and type Los Angeles into the Google Maps app on my iPhone, the instructions on how to drive there begin: “Turn right out of the lane onto West 5th Avenue,” which is as tiny a baby step as anyone could ever want.
It’s too bad there’s no Google Maps application for yoga.
We learn the outward shape of a pose, follow the instructions, come up against our limitations, and then stop.
What else can we do? Our minds can’t tell our muscles how to take us somewhere we’ve never been before.
How do we bridge the gap?
Once, in Rome, I drank coffee out of a cup that had “yoga magic” written on the side. I didn’t try to buy it from the cafe, and I regret that. The longer I practice, the more clear it is to me that the answer to “how do we bridge the gap?” often involves a little yoga magic.
You practice a pose many times, and always stop in the same place. Then one day a teacher says something in a different way, or your work in another pose has opened your body, and suddenly the pathway is there.
Last weekend, I had another experience of Italian yoga magic, this time from Florence, in the shape of Gabriella Giubillaro. Gabriella is a senior Iyengar teacher who has been making yearly visits to Vancouver since the early 1990s.
Friday night, all day Saturday and Sunday morning, we did intense work on relatively simple poses, including Utthita Parsvakonasana and Warrior I. Any time you have to keep your arms out at shoulder height for five minutes, it’s intense, no matter what the pose is.
I learned a lot: a better way to prop elbow balance for people with stiff shoulders, a new appreciation for height under my head in headstand, a new back bend preparation to practice every day, increased clarity in Warrior I.
But it was on Monday, the teacher-training day, that something more magical clicked into place.
We were practicing the art of adjustment, of moving students more deeply into the pose without knocking them off balance – not such an easy task. Three times, when I was the person in the pose, Gabriella said: “you go, I do,” to my partner.
One of these poses was rotated triangle. We started facing the wall, then rotated so the toes of the back foot pressed the wall. Once I was in the pose, facing out into the room, my partner used her pelvis to stabilize mine at the wall, and pressed the wrist of my upper arm into the wall. It was lovely. Between those two supports, I rotated far more freely.
I thought I was already in the pose when I heard again: “You go, I do.”
Gabriella replaced my partner at my hips, pinned my upper arm wrist to the wall, then reached a hand under my ribcage and like an Italian yoga-GPS, brought my lower ribs forward and up. The movement felt enormous and completely right, as though I had suddenly arrived at a brand new place and found myself at home.
Would I have found that place eventually? Perhaps.
Will I be able to find my way back?
I’m not sure, but at least now I know that somewhere in rotated triangle pose I can find compete freedom for my ribcage. The next time I set out to find it, I’ll have a much better idea of where I’m headed.
Have you experienced yoga magic in your practice? A moment when you moved from “I can’t” to “I can”? What triggers it for you? I’d love to hear about it.