Saturday, January 21, 2012

No Goal + Open Outcome = Experience

I set myself tasks, getting groceries, showing up for practice or for teaching. It is easy to put objects on the calendar and begin investing in how all that comes to pass, whether it does, and with what efficiency. The checking off of the list becomes another layer of goal. It is strange that I can so easily rely upon all of this to define myself. I can identify with having the capacity or not to do these things. But using this to define myself is as though assigning myself a meditation practice and putting my body on the cushion is the same as meditating. Looking at that straight on, it is so clearly not so. The setting of a goal may well influence the formation of an intention, but is not the act itself of doing and being.

The action of being present is not the same as aligning the spine. Aligning the spine can help with many layers of awareness, to be sure, and that’s where some confusion might enter the picture about yoga and the practice of yoga. A recent article in the NY Times about yoga and injury brought up questions among students and teachers these past few weeks. The article clearly describes the negative physiological effects in specific cases of repetitive overdoing or predisposition to injury in asana practice. It can happen even in meditation if a person insists on sitting motionless for many hours a day, disregarding physical best practices. These are distortions of what the practices demand, in my opinion, since yoga and meditation actually do make demands but more squarely in the areas of commitment, cultivating attention, and willingness to see patterns of behavior and reactivity and bring intelligent awareness to these patterns.

I have no intention of mimicking the life and practice of spiritual renunciates from previous centuries or even current times. Neither is yoga a weight loss program or a new age form of aerobic workout. Teachers who teach this way are grossly misrepresenting the depth and range of the practices in order to serve a client base who want this from them. So everyone takes some risks along with that approach.

Any body can benefit from connecting to their physical body, and from initiating a conscious practice of cultivating awareness, deepen the understanding of the interactions of breath and energy and apply some yogic principles and philosophy to their way of being and doing. Students of yoga can be young or old, able bodied or disabled. There is no requirement to achieve specific asana or lengths of meditative sessions. Asana practice certainly can develop strength, flexibility and stamina, body awareness and cultivation of energy use without participating in a sport. Meditation practice does enable the loosening of constraints of habitual ego patterns developed over years of responding and reacting, and gives insight into seeing conditions that continuously change with more clarity.

Perhaps seeing one’s own drive and emotional baggage when doing yoga is one of the first and greatest benefits of the practice. Learning to step back from the pressure we put on ourselves can help us see that there can be a less encumbered flow of energy for us to use. This is truly a saving grace. Good teachers are on this path, and can help students discover their own feet there too.

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