Thursday, December 15, 2011
Asana is not sport, yet leads to the dance of life
I really don't know what it is like to be an athlete who has a routine of training in order to ever more confidently master the ways and means of the body. I came to the physical practice of yoga at a stage of life when, truth be told, I thought my physical prime was clearly or at least obviously behind me. It was an emotional and foundational search that brought me to the mat in the first place, looking for the well upon which I could draw to assuage my deep thirst to be worthy of well being.
What happened was simple in a way, as I almost immediately came to understand that I was already whole and the sustenance I needed was within my own grasp, if I could pay attention to the patterns I already had, and learn to release my grip on giving meanings and stories to everything. Meanwhile, I tackled the athletic aspect of asana practice without really knowing what this was, or that I was entering an entirely new way of living in the body I had thought I knew.
My first experiences with yoga asana were inexplicable. I felt as though I was trying to follow instructions while someone spoke in languages I could never hope to understand. I was unfamiliar with my body as a mechanical entity, and knew nothing about sanskrit or prana, as such. It didn't take long for the practice to have its way with me, though, and before long I was taking classes with teachers of various "types" if the class fit into my schedule. So I experienced a little Kundalini yoga, and some Hatha, some Kripalu style yoga, Iyengar and vinyasa. There was a little meditation and a little chanting. And pranayama was taught as it fit into the mood or plan of the teacher, with little explanation of effects or properties. And so I grew in my own curiosities and explorations.
Years went by in which I practiced on my own, even gave up practicing, and then returned to classes in various studios. This is so far from the tradition of a student seeker finding a guru who nurtures and guides a practitioner to trust fully and surrender to the practice! And yet, my own research and experience led me to deepen my practice, take trainings and begin teaching. In this aspect my course has definitely been part of the tradition of inquiry at the source of experience, cultivating awareness and leading to study what other practitioners have also discovered.
Now I physically experience my every day, contemplating the meanings of muscles, the powers of the mind and the intricacies of support in the breath. There are definitely asana that physically elude me, and I admit that athleticism is not my goal in practice, yet I am curious about the mechanisms that enable and disable at each point along the way. I am investigating will and fear, ease and dis-ease, judgment and joy. I seek to help my students find a fuller experience of themselves, without needing to pre-judge or pre-qualify themselves. I ponder the drives within the physical practice, seeing in some students the addictive qualities of exertion and attainment, while others rely upon pattern and repetition to reduce their fear of the unknown. Seeing or experiencing what is true in the moment, and just letting that be so, is a transformative practice.