Monday, May 24, 2010

The Flow in Practice

Yoga practice starts with intentions. Just taking mat in hand is the beginning. Next, I find a spot to lay the mat out, a cushion or a block nearby, and put myself down on the mat. Whether sitting, standing or lying down, it is my breath in my body that brings me into the present moment. I feel the movement of my skin as I breathe, notice the texture of my throat and the softness inside my belly and ribs. I let my joints open and my bones settle into gravity. This is the path, to open what can be released and be with whatever sensations come. The movements stretch and challenge, bringing awareness to feelings and the spaces beyond feelings.

The plan unfolds from the breath. I move the places that are motivated by the breath, and pay special attention to those joints and muscles that feel especially tight or fragile. I make my movements such my body is fully drawn into the breath. Gently loosening with movements that are charged with the inhale and released by the exhale, I can explore whatever is brought up. Learning to attend to what actually is so, I can choose to hold a posture or a sequence of movements and extend the breath or undulate in and out using the breath to energize.

Releasing a stiff joint takes time, takes movement, takes heart. Compassion towards myself means being attentive to the muscle that is tight without force or goal setting. Moderating the urgency to move or push, and allowing myself to breathe through the challenges that arise, using strength and patience, and humor. I don't really ever doubt whether I will live through this moment! Why make it into something so dramatic? What if my balance is terrible on one side? I reinvent my foothold on the earth and build that foundation all the way up my spine until I can breath the extension. I laugh when I fall out of a posture, marveling. I take the stiff side twice, noticing aspects that are different the second time, not judging a level of accomplishment, just noticing the effects of practice.

So one day or series of days I might spend more time with twists or standing postures, with inversions or back bends. Perhaps this day, this moment calls for sensing the balance in every asana, or drawing awareness into the back of my ribcage no matter what else is going on. Slow breathing or rapid Kapalabhati, these choices are drawn from the inside with a conscious mind as a witness not the director of the flow. This openness to possibility and non judgment, breaks out of a pattern of set events and lets the design on the mat flow from my own breath. This combination of attention and kindness, effort and exploration, is what seems to build my ability to be more fully myself. When I take classes I give over the flow to the teacher, and usually discover all kinds of things about myself and about the student experience of yoga teaching.

Even if I try to do the same sequence every day, my practice is never the same.

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