Saturday, February 27, 2010

On the Mat: Being Where You Find Yourself

It is no surprise that sitting on a yoga mat can be much more than a physical experience. Discovering that your neck is stiff, or that one hip is crankier than the other is one way of getting to know yourself with more honesty and attention than usual, but something else happens too. The stillness we allow on the mat in order to pay attention to that hip is often uncomfortable in and of itself. In that space, with attention focused on breathing, we begin to see ourselves in vast and discrete ways simultaneously. All the efforting to adjust the hips, the stream of judgments about the tensions in the breath, the constant remembering to release the seemingly continuous tightening of the neck muscles and the realization that attention has wandered yet again to the person next to us... provides an unfiltered experience of our own being.

So much energy goes into making ourselves over, wishing we were different than we are, covering, editing or erasing parts of ourselves we don't like or can't figure out. This way of operating creates layers and patterns, puts some of our most authentic qualities and understandings out of reach, and makes it hard to connect deeply and honestly to other people. So often even in intimate relationships there is a sense of not being known, or of disbelief when it comes to accepting appreciation or love. If we can not see and accept ourselves, we cannot believe anyone else can know or love that self either. Often our self acceptance is with reservations and exclusionary clauses that we have come to consider part of the self.

There is something uncanny, magical and simple about training our attention on the breath. When we soften our physical effort around the breath, we set aside some of the basic resistance to being who we are. Not concerned with what our faces are doing, letting go of preconceived ideas of what that hip can or cannot do, we can approach our own inhaling and exhaling with curiosity. We develop more acute observational skills as we discover things about its texture or length, seeing the variety of efforts we make to control or direct it, and accepting quite basically that it is just what it is and that the breath, as itself, can be trusted. Trusting the breath is a profound step towards accepting oneself and finding a safe space, in some ways a very sacred space, in which to explore just being.

We find that there is no need to judge our breathing. Letting that idea permeate us for even a moment makes space to let go of judging ourselves generally. Curiosity about the breath leads to a genuine awakening of curiosity about the self: exactly how is this rib cage situated around the inhale, moving on the exhale, releasing and empowering a sense of being. Centering attention, maintaining focus without judging, directly nurtures a sense of well-being. It is remarkable to discover that we, along with every other living being, are breathing and being in each moment. We make space for ourselves on the mat and this space goes with us off the mat. If we open to finding ourselves as we are - breathing, being, curious and whole - we have the ultimate freedom to accept ourselves (and others) as worthy of happiness in all its forms. Without judgment and with awareness, we no longer need to manipulate ourselves into being worthy, we find that we are naturally worthy of being.

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