I should call this post ‘Opening my Heart’ because that is what it’s really about. I kept the title as it is though in the hope that anyone Googling the wonderful yogini Sophia La Pastina may find this and know how incredible the experience I just had was – and maybe they’ll then be able to experience it for themselves one day.
I’ve been staying in Dharamsala in northern India for two weeks now and I love this place. It has an amazing energy and is full of healing people offering many different ways to practice and receive healing. But until today I didn’t feel I had really connected with myself here. I’ve done a lot of yoga, I’ve had massage, I’ve been kind to myself and have felt generally at peace. But I felt lacking in some way – looking for something or someone who could take me further in my healing journey. Today was definitely a breakthrough. An unexpected one.
I came to Sophia’s Acro Yoga intensive workshop purely by chance: a friend of a friend was going and I was intrigued. I’ve never tried Acro Yoga and I was a little worried it would be too advanced for me. I saw people practicing on the beach in Varkala earlier this year and they looked like acrobats from the circus flying in the air. (Amazing!) I suppose my expectation for the class therefore was purely physical. What I received, however, was much more than that.
We began the day at 10am starting on our mats with a short warm up. Immediately I liked Sophia’s style. Focused on our breathing, she told us to move slowly and enjoy each movement and each breath as we went. It felt gentle, yet strong and empowering. Then we gathered in a circle and sat on the floor holding hands. Just this simple thing threw me out of my comfort zone immediately. Perhaps it’s an English reserve I’m still struggling to shake, or just the intimacy of holding hands with a stranger that I found difficult. Also perhaps knowing what was coming – that we’d have to say something about ourselves to the group. Silly, aged 29, I still find this kind of thing daunting. But I was determined to be open and relaxed and embrace it. We went around the circle introducing ourselves and were asked to tell the group how we were feeling in our bodies today. I said I felt good, and I did. After a week feeling like I’ve been fighting sickness, I woke up this morning feeling strong in my body and positive in my mind.
Then we started to learn some moves. The three-hour morning session was focused on ‘therapeutic flying’. This entailed working in groups of three: one person would be the ‘base’, one the ‘flyer’, and one the ‘spotter’ (very important to ensure no injuries!)
Pretty soon I realised that this was much more than a physical exercise. The whole premise of the ‘art’ of Acro Yoga is trust. Every move your partner makes affects your balance, and if you do not trust, you will not fly. Conversely, as the person supporting the other in the air, the responsibility feels huge: you have the safety of their body in your hands (and feet). In order for it to work, you have to really connect with each other, communicate and work together. And trust. And when you do, it’s amazing. Whether you are the one flying in the air, or the one supporting from underneath, the feeling of strength created through your bodies and minds joining in unison is incredible.
At the end of the morning session, before breaking for lunch, we were asked to come together in a circle again, with half the class standing and the others sitting. Those sitting closed their eyes and those standing stood behind them and placed their hands on their shoulders. Guided silently by Sophia, we began massaging the shoulders of those sitting on the floor. Then, again on her silent command, we all shifted round to the next person, moving our hands to massage their backs, then to the next person, their heads, and so on. This silently moving circle of almost strangers, giving love and attention to our ‘friends’ whom we’d just spent three hours working intimately together with, was a beautiful thing. We then swapped places, so that those who’d received massage would now give to the others. In this way we each gave and received to everyone in the room.
It’s such a simple thing – to receive loving touch from another person – but from a stranger it can be challenging. This was one of the lessons I found I learned about myself today. As open as I think I am, receiving love in this way for me is hard. I’m inclined to find it awkward and not know how to react. But by letting this go in the safe, group environment that we’d created, facilitated by Sophia and her assistant teacher (also very lovely), meant that we could give this gift to each other, and receive it. Simultaneously we were selflessly giving; and indulgently receiving: the harmony and balance created felt to me an expression of what love should be. Why we do not do this more in our everyday lives I do not know. It makes me sad.
After lunch we came back for another three hours of practice. This time we learnt acrobatic moves – also requiring us to work in pairs with a spotter for support. Some of the positions were very challenging, not only physically (requiring significant strength and balance), but mentally too. We put our bodies in some very precarious positions and the reality of falling from such heights was not a pretty thought. But no one got hurt and the room most of the time was full of laughter.
As a group we worked together amazingly. Everyone there was really present – in body, in mind and in spirit – and we were all in it together. Whoever we were working with, we offered our trust, respect and kindness. When we finished a move we would high five each or hug other, feeling the sense of achievement created between us as one. No barriers. No embarrassment. No reserve. By the end we were like a family. In fact that’s the word that Sophia used to describe us as we lay down on the floor in savasana for a final rest and opportunity to bring the energy down to a calm level to end the day. This was no normal savasana though, as each one of us lay with our head resting on another’s belly. Joined physically and emotionally, we lay on the floor, feeling the wonderful energy in the room we had created and the warmth of each other around us. That was until someone laughed, which triggered a rupture of giggles down the line of bodies until everyone was in fits of hysterics.
I have to say that this has been the most healing experience I’ve had since the Chaya yoga retreat in January. In just a few hours it taught me so much. Mostly, that I do not need to heal all on my own. Being in a supportive environment filled with people with open hearts felt overwhelming, but amazing. And as I found myself brought to tears lying in our final rest, I realised that this is what I long for. Community. Love. Support. There are so many beautiful people out there willing to give and to share their love with me. So I don’t need to be alone. I just need to open myself to the opportunities presenting themselves to me to let others in and help me on this journey.
P.S. This was me on the way back from the workshop… I think you can see how happy I am ;)