Saturday, March 24, 2012
Aligning beyond the body
I am constantly shifting myself when I notice that I am in my habitual chin tilting posture, or hip cocked stance or sitting unevenly always left leg crossed. It reminds me a bit of trying to balance on one foot beyond just a few seconds. There is a constant negotiating in order to find that alignment; and with these habitual patterns in my body, I am noticing and adjusting in much the same way. Just as with seeking my balance, in these other habits it is my practice of cultivating awareness that brings me the possibility of aligning in spite of my life long patterns. I cannot change the asymmetrical nature of the body I live in, but I can definitely line things up in a way that liberates my movement, and makes much less trouble for my spine, joints, and muscles. Yes, I can lower the level of my own suffering.
This has a huge effect on my life, as the level of awareness that I now bring, not just to my "posture" you might call it, can and does apply to my feelings, my reactions, my way of operating in the world. That I can now even notice that my chin is tilting habitually, or that sadness is arising in a triggered response, is the result of cultivating mindfulness and allowing awareness to guide my actions and behaviors. I will be the first to admit that I have not been disciplined in my meditation practice for years and years, not at all. I have slowly and gradually been evolving into a more mindful person through my asana practice, and with what might be seen as a mild case of meditation until recent years when a nearly daily practice became more integrated.
The body is the vehicle for most beginning yoga practitioners. In fact most people think of yoga solely as the physical practice. Lots of yoga classes start and finish without the subtle secret remembering of the breath or the softening of the soles of the feet to sense the complex and delicate balance of energy and ease. And then the practice begins to take on that shape, when it is no longer about what it looks like on the outside even if there is a lot of attention paid verbally and physically to alignment and the principles of how muscles and bones work together. It is in the specificity of your own body, the very precise capabilities and inadequacies in that physical self and the way your own mind reacts and relates to all of this -- the instructions, the feelings, the physical risk taking and resting -- that the core of the work is revealed that the muscles you are truly developing are those of mindfulness and awareness.
Sitting in meditation, or walking or laying in meditation for that matter, can open your inner eye, so to speak, to the vastness of your energy beyond all the constant flow of thinking that keeps us occupied most of the time. The asana practice and developing the alignment of the poses is another way, that can augment or even introduce this process of cultivation. Noticing that there is a waste of energy in your arms in your warrior pose can lead to understanding that you waste energy in trying to control how other people do things. Noticing that you have once again fallen into the habit of turning the toes of your left foot in and are stressing your knee more than necessary can lead to noticing that you are putting too much on your calendar for one morning and are creating your own condition of frantic urgency.
Revelation and understanding are not predictable events, but through cultivating your awareness in asana alignment, you can illuminate and align the way you stand at the sink doing dishes. In this way you can cultivate being more aware of how you stand in the larger context of the life you live as well.