Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Deepen at Any Point

When people ask me about the weekly community class I teach, I say that it is a beginning class, but that every body is welcome. It is okay to be a person who has no experience of yoga or a life long practitioner. The inquiry involved is that of being present no matter what level of experience one has. I've been teaching this "beginning" yoga for a year and a half in the same little neighborhood studio. Every class introduces fundamental aspects of yoga. There are patterns, or sequences, or ideas that come in the door with me, some of which become the core of the practice, some of which dissipate once the practice begins. It is becoming clearer to me as I go along that the deepening of practice may mean building the stamina to hold an asana longer and thereby gain new experience of the self, or it can mean picking up on the more subtle inner questions about movement in the breath that directs a flow or asana sequence. It can be the stillness of Savasana (corpse pose, or relaxtion), or the openness of Savasana, or the sheer sensation of shoulder blades on the mat below the heart in Savasana that allows a person to simply be or to discover their own observing witness self for the first time.

A neighbor and sometimes student of mine asked me this week how to cherish the experience of every step if her feet already hurt. My first response is to accept the experience of the steps as evidence of presence in the moment. If you can let go of the attachment to the emotions that come up with the soreness of the step, in other words, the feeling sorry for oneself, or the story about how tired one is, or the fear over what might be wrong with the big toe, or the judgment of having bought shoes that don't fit... well, if you can detach and actually experience the steps, it is more likely that you can find a way of stepping that is less painful. It can be more interesting to allow awareness to explore the walking with discomfort without all that baggage, and, in fact, it can refocus attention enough to actually be less painful. Deepening the practice might include breath awareness, or bringing alert attention to alignment of the knee with the hip and ankle, the exact placement of the feet. These layers can also help alleviate the sensations of stress and sometimes even lighten the step, perhaps allowing the experience to transform discomfort and aggravation into an exploration of the way one functions in the world.

Watching the self go through an experience is another layer of practice that is available at any moment, whether you have a yoga practice of one week or several years. I have a feeling that even the most revered practitioners alive today have moments when grasping and attachment must be revisited. We each find depth as we go along, and it is wonderful to accept the practice as it is in the moment and use this moment to deepen the practice.

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