Thursday, April 11, 2013
Body as Vehicle for Experiencing Life in the Mind
Looking at this image of a pie is a way in to the way my mind works. Even if I didn't have associations with the experience in time and space of being served this pie (which I do), I react with admiration, appetite, and curiosity. This image sparks my body into hungry messages, and my feelings about diet, body image, flavors, my own pie making, and on and on. This image of a pie is a way of triggering all kinds of information about how my body and mind work.
The physical practices of yoga are just like this pie, offering unlimited ways of revealing our selves to our selves through the experiences we remember, project or have in the moment, including feelings and all kinds of associations. The body postures (asana) and breath practices (pranayama) are available to us now in so many ways, styles, places, and tempos. Each time we approach the yoga mat, no matter where or with whom, there is an invitation to combine the mind's attention with the body's experiences. Teachers ask students to direct their attention to this through instructions about dropping shoulders down the back, or feeling the weight in the outer edge of the foot, or lifting the Mula Bandha to engage the deep abdominal muscles. This is mind seeking out the communication channels in the body, literally making the connections. So many of us confuse our right arm with our left as we process verbal instructions, but that is not a problem really. Some of us can't lift and lower only our big toe, but that is not a problem either. Yoga opens these lines of communication and invites us to let go of the judging of what happens or doesn't.
It is not for the physical experience alone that we come to the practice, and the practice will not leave us alone at that level of engagement. Finding that we don't know how to lift those deep muscles of the Mula Bandha from the base of the perineum, we wonder how to activate this area? Or perhaps we do know how to lift the Mula Bandha but only in association with moments of sexual involvement and find ourselves embarrassed and inept at making that deeply personal connection in the context of a yoga class. This is invisible, as is the sensation of weight in different parts of our feet -- or so we think.
The physical practice of yoga is deeply personal. It allows an intimacy with oneself physically that draws out the mind, engages the emotions, and may trigger many unexpected experiences. In the classic yoga structure, Asana and Pranayama are but two of the eight limbs of yogic practice, the rest are philosophical and relate to energies and attention, dealing directly with mind in all its aspects and attributes. It is the physical practices that reveal to us that the body is the vehicle for experience that the mind can use to discover itself.