Sunday, October 10, 2010

Repetition & Layers

In my own practice and teaching I allow myself freedom to explore the moment itself. This might mean that I do not follow a set routine, or series of movements or set up with preparatory thoughts, chants, or breathing patterns. Maybe this seems to be a lack of discipline, and perhaps it is. Maybe this is learning to listen and hear the deep teachings that are embodied in my physical self, and perhaps that is so too. There were periods of time when my practice was similar, day to day. Same pattern of warming up the joints, same pattern of following the Surya Namaskar (sun salutation) series of Asana, and adding in a this and a that of twist, or hip opener, of working towards inversions, then a similar series of forward bends and cooling down towards Savasana.

Recently in preparation for a training program through the Arthritis Foundation, I began following a DVD of the most basic Tai Chi foundational movements. Each little movement is preceded by the very same warm ups and followed by the very same cool down exercises. Once again I am in that phase of doing the same movements in sequence, adding in a little this or that of the previously learned lesson plus the new form, and then doing the same closing sequences.

As in all my yoga experiences, there are many levels in the moment. In the breath itself, there are textural changes. There is deep cultivation of awareness as balance shifts from side to side; the arm motion balances the leg shift, and the one hand posture stabilizes the movement in the other hand. It is so beautiful to find once again my attention drawn to feeling the energy in the core of my body in response or as the starting point of the movements.

The role of a good teacher definitely includes bringing the student back from the edge of their effort to the deeper principles. Dr. Paul Lam, who originated this series of Tai Chi for Arthritis, encourages the student to focus on one principle at a time for a period of their practice --for example a few days or a week with focus on balance, gentleness, fluid motion, soft inner energy, or breath in the core -- and then return again to focus on one principle at a time. Repeating the same warm ups, practicing the new forms, closing with the same cool down movements as I focus my attention on my shifting balance, or the spaciousness in my joints becomes a new experience each time I revisit the deep principle.

Try sitting in Sukhasana - a comfortable cross legged position. Imagine you have never done this before and just notice how it feels to be sitting just like that. Breathe into it for a few breaths. Now let your body make the adjustments that offer the support to free your spine, add the props, and bring in the subtle shifts that soften your foundation. Allow your breath to relax your jaw, your heart, your eyeballs. Now simply sit, with your attention on letting your body release and be open to the possibilities. How many times have you brought your body to the mat and sat it down without noticing that it was you, there, on the mat, being yourself? You can now bring all your awareness to any aspect of being, perhaps an intention is forming in your heart, perhaps the breath is now reaching into the back body, perhaps you can feel the flow of energy along your spine.

Doing "the same thing" is a brilliant light to shine into every aspect of your being. Repetition is never "the same thing." Is every inhale the same? Opening like the unfolding petals of a flower, your ability to be present in the moment will bloom with your focus and awareness.

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