Monday, August 16, 2010

Be Curious, Not Critical

When my right shoulder does not rotate the way my left shoulder does, my reaction used to be "what's wrong with my shoulder?" Now I find it is curiosity that leads me to discover all manner of things, and not just physical aspects either. Acceptance is a fundamental concept for whatever I find in my practice. Acceptance is not complacent, nor is it settling for less. The only way to discover what is actually happening is to explore what is actually happening, rather than compare it or judge it or set some unrelated goal. Each moment of my practice is precious to me. Each moment offers the opportunity to be fully alive, to see myself unedited. This will definitely have to include asymmetries in my body and patterns in my mind. Without attaching to my reactions, I can free myself to explore and discover myself and insights into practical and spiritual matters.

I often tell my students that "pain is not part of a yoga practice," but sometimes pain is very much part of practice in a more obscure way. Avoidance of pain is a major operating principle that needs to be explored, and sometimes pushing into or "past" pain is a pattern that demands attention. Fear of pain is such a natural tendency, and whether it is the mind that is conditioned or the body that has had experiences it wishes to avoid, these emotions can be investigated compassionately. A common strategy is to take the posture in stages, gradually approaching the fullest expression, rather than aiming for a particular external shape. Using props is another way to soften the stresses of a posture. Taking care of the body, this thoughtful supportive way of exploring yoga can go a long way towards easing the anxieties and triggers that can grip a person who is afraid, or who pushes too hard.

It is not really that surprising to discover that yoga does not benefit from competing with oneself or with any one else. Criticizing yourself doesn't help you do something that is hurting you, or that you are not able to do at this time. Part of the joy of a yoga practice is being able to accommodate any and all conditions of the body and mind, by accepting that which is so and letting go of judgment about that. There is nothing to prove in yoga, and no one to prove it to. Experiencing the moment itself is the practice, and the practice is the path to being present in your own experiences. It is very rewarding to take on the challenges that the body and mind offer, rather than finding fault with what doesn't come easily. Teachers can play a wonderful supporting role in this inquiry, and bring their knowledge and offer suggestions that clarify and illuminate. The exploration, however, is our own though the questions may turn out to be universal.

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