It’s been a while again since I’ve written about yoga. the Tibet situation got me rather riled up (and I’m still riled about it) and I felt I had to blog about it over at Ramblings. but I’m back!
I’m writing again about Mark Whitwell, a yogi with whom I have never studied, but want to. You’d think I was getting paid to write about him but I’m not.
There is something about him and his writing that resonates with me, probably because his teaching is grounded in the Krishnamacharya lineage. The longer I practice the more I know that yoga is all about feeling the breath, nothing more, nothing less. It’s about being “in here” instead of “out there”.
I subscribe to emails from his website and this is an excerpt from one I received recently entitled “Yoga and Free Participation in the Breath”:
“Yoga is so easily practiced and is a natural healing activity that is
available to anyone who has breath. It is for everyOne everyWhere including individuals who do not have normal physical movement.
My friend Ram Dass was showing me with great joy how he had adapted his Yoga to his needs. One side of his body is paralyzed. He holds one arm with his good arm and moves the whole body as breath. It makes him feel well and joyful. It brings health into his system. He wanted to know why he had not been taught this earlier in his Life when it is clearly devotion. It is Bhakti yoga to which his Life has been devoted. It is the direct intimacy with our Nurturing Source. In a poignant moment he tearfully apologized for Hatha Yoga being so poorly represented in the West. He said he never had a chance to do it because all his Hatha yoga teachers were show offs. They would teach him extreme exaggerated, heroic things to do in the dualistic psychology of trying to get somewhere idealistic, imaginary enlightenment. Not the direct intimacy where each person participates in the wonder of Life already Given, in us as us. So he was crying…so sweet. ‘I have it now,’ he said. I love this man.
As described in Yoga of Heart:
‘Physical practices are essentially about free participation in the breath. To be with the breath is to be with that which is breathing us. The body remains soft and structured around the breath movement and the moving anatomy serves the breath process. The body movement is the breath movement and vice versa. The mind naturally participates in this process and becomes clear as it links to the whole body, the intelligence of Life.
This may be a challenge but not a struggle. The challenge is within the breath limits, not in the musculature. Practices are designed for the individual and the real yoga is within everyone’s capability. It is not an attempt to impose the mind’s predetermined structuring of the anatomy or any cultural proposal. The breath too should not be overly controlled, but flow organically and smoothly within comfortably managed breath ratios.
The goal of yoga is to unqualify the organism of mind, not qualify it. This occurs through intimacy with body, breath and mind as one process. Finally this goal itself is seen to be an obstruction and unnecessary because the living organism already stands in its intelligence; the natural state. There are no steps to be taken.’”
The idea about Ram Dass adopting his yoga to his needs struck a chord with me because I experienced another health crisis about two weeks ago (I’ve had more than a few in the past year). this time with my left eye. I am not going to bore anyone with the details, but it got me thinking about being blind in one eye and/or facing major eye surgery. I could not do inversions with this eye problem so it naturally affected my downward facing dog.
I teach about seven classes a week. does not being able to demonstrate asanas make me a “better” teacher, or at least change my teaching? let me assure you that it does.
teachers, how would you teach a class if you could only talk your students through it? would your language become more precise? would you talk about intuiting your way into a pose, or having a felt sense of it — and I don’t mean mouthing the cliches that we have all heard in yoga classes.
students, how would you do your yoga class if your teacher could not demonstrate any asanas? would you listen more carefully, would you finally begin to internalize the felt sense of the asanas?
in my classes other than beginners’ classes, even without this bad eye, over the years I have found myself demonstrating less and talking more because frankly, I don’t want my students to watch me. I want them to feel, not think. I don’t want them them to copy me.
How many yoga students or teachers reading this are so attached to your bodies, to solely the physical aspects of yoga, that you would not know how to adapt your practice or your teaching? think about it. would you feel you were somehow lacking if you could not do asana but could only do pranayama and meditation? and if you could only practice pranayama and meditation, and could never do the physical practice ever again, would you feel that you are still doing yoga?