Two days ago I stubbed my toe and it drew my attention like a rocket exploding across the sky. I could almost say it shook me to my foundation and took my breath away at the same time! From that instant this simple change in the way my foot reacted to everything has served as such a deep reminder that everything is subject to change and that the feelings and meanings, stories and responses are not who I am, they are just conditions. At this point my toe only speaks when I push on it, but it has helped remind me to soften my feet in every Asana, and highlights how my balance and my movement are related to breath and a rising core energy, and my relationship to the earth whether I am noticing that or not. The toe made sure I was noticing. What a gift!
Yoga practice is not a routine. Pratapana (preparatory movements) and Asana (postures) can be repeated daily and even in the same sequence (though that is not my style), yet the practice is unique to the moment. Each day that I open my eyes, the light astonishes me. Even thinking that I know which hip will be creaky, what is actually happening in the moment is something specific and can only be experienced with awareness in that moment. The instant I stubbed my toe, my body reacted and my mind reacted; my breath reacted (that sharp intake!) and my feelings both physical and emotional jumped in. Each time I settle on the mat, my body sensations and my inhale/exhale can take just as much attention. Can an ordinary moment, of transition from inhaling to exhaling, of resting in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I standing posture), be as fully engaging as the moment I stubbed my toe? Yes, it can if I allow myself to choose to focus fully upon it. Through the body and its senses and reactions to conditions, the reactions of voluntary and involuntary muscles and nerves to the mind's directions, and within the patterns learned, I can literally find myself intensely and completely sitting on the mat breathing in and breathing out. My body gives me a laboratory in which to experience my self and the world, both internal and external.
What is the point of this intense presence? Is it some release into higher consciousness or trance-like tranquility? Well, not really for me at this point, though it may sometimes go through a stage like that. I think of the Asana practice, the practice of yoga through the body, as a stage in waking up. Allowing myself to observe so closely, to experience more fully without attaching to the experience, brings me to a new level of equanimity, while simultaneously integrating my energy into my entire being. I am at whatever level of practice this is, that I can more easily be clear and awake through the yoga practice, even while withdrawing from my sensations and becoming more and more of an observer, using experience and reactivity to help me see and be my self.
The ache in my toe brings my inner awareness to what I can release more fully into the experience. Releasing into the experience demands letting go more fully of the "idea" of the experience. Sitting or walking meditation starts in the same way for me it seems, using the breath or awareness of gravity or light. I guess this is just where I am on the continuum of cultivating consciousness, that I use my body as a prop, a processing plant, a playing field upon which to see and play the game of being who I am. After all, I am experiencing this life in this body, so I might as well use it with gratitude for all that it gives me!