Monday, September 27, 2010

No Posturing - Just Experiences

Anything we try to do every day can turn into a routine. I remember going to an aerobics class for a few weeks many years ago and how the experience went from unfamiliar and clumsy to feeling on top of the game. My sense of familiarity helped me feel the fluidity of the movements, and I anticipated and enjoyed the shift from one rhythmic sequence to the next. I loved the rest at the end even then. But it was not something that brought my awareness into focus, nor was it something that I could do for myself. The whole thing rested on someone telling me what to do and with getting myself into the stream of motion in that room full of other people. The injuries, though commonplace for aerobics classes, have haunted my feet and knees ever since.

Yoga can be much the same if it is approached as a series of physical postures. In fact people can find some of the same unifying principles from any athletic training program, physical work or dance where there is commitment and regularity, and a sense of giving over to the natural rhythm of the breath. Unlike these other pursuits, it is interesting to me that with mindfulness, one can actually include everything in life as part of the practice. Like Thich Nhat Hahn's comment "do the dishes to do the dishes," there is a way of being in which everything becomes the yoga practice. This has little to do with whether you can hold Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog) with an inner rotation in your thighs or if you are breathing with the sound of the ocean from gently constricting your throat in Ujjayi breath. It is a collaboration of mind and body, held non-judgmentally in the compassionate heart that allows for the freedom to just do the dishes to do the dishes.

What yoga postures do, when explored over time and in a variety of sequences, is open the inner and relational communication channels, refresh or even build a network of "power lines" through which the currents flow through a person. These are physical and measurable, such as circulatory or neurological or glandular for example, and they are non physical in the sense that vitality and energy have emotional and spiritual aspects. You can be in great health and feel terrible. You can have serious physical "deficiencies" and feel alive and engaged. A yoga practice combines the integration of the entire physical self, as "flawed" or inexperienced as one might feel from living in such a judgmental and critical world, with the sense of possibilities and deeper realities of the human capacity to fully be present. Each moment can become a bead of freedom and gratitude in a chain of events that do not have an end goal or purpose beyond the moment.

In classes focused on alignment and the details of how this or that muscle or bone operates within the pose, it is the subtle cultivation of awareness and the focusing of attention that have the deepest impact. The qualities of mind experienced throughout this process may fluctuate between curious, judgmental, attached to outcome and detached from outcome, aware of others with critical mind and aware of others with a compassionate heart. The first step is to welcome curiosity and allow nonjudgmental acceptance of all the discoveries in the moment. This has nothing really to do with taking a specific asana shape, or whether you can now or ever will do this or that asana. It is not the posturing that builds the practice, the asana postures simply provide a systematic array of switches and conduits that open up the energy and awareness already within each one of us. This is why, unlike so many other physical practices, in yoga there are infinite varieties of asana postures and modifications that can be made to enhance the personal experience whether the shape can be "achieved" or not in that moment. Truly experiencing the moment is more to the point than posturing through the practice.

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