Those of you who have been reading this blog regularly know that I don’t treat yoga as a physical exercise or performance art. I know that people come to yoga for all different reasons, and many people say “so what if people just do yoga for the work-out? they’ll find the non-physical part of it eventually.”
my contention is…maybe.
remember what I said before: in the pre-Yoga Journal days, that is, when I dabbled in yoga and meditation in college in the early ’70s, the only people I knew doing yoga and meditation were patchoulli oil wearing hippies who had already been to or were going to India. They lived in communes or had studied with white-robed gurus who did not separate yoga and meditation. Yoga was meditation and meditation was yoga. what a concept!
I also contend that if one is “doing yoga” for only the physical aspects, it ain’t yoga. it’s acrobatics. it’s gymnastics. but it ain’t yoga. I’ve heard Desikachar, the son of Krishnamacharya, say the same thing. you can call a dog a cat a thousand times, but that will never make that dog a cat. it’s still a dog, no matter what you call it. so you can call your morning work-out “yoga” all you want, but that does not make it yoga.
what I find in my classes both with beginners and experienced students is that they are very disembodied. their bodies are in the room, but their minds are not. my teaching is very breath-oriented, and I can always tell when someone moves first, and then breathes. it’s become second nature to me. and when they are holding the asanas, I can always tell how they are “out there”, instead of “in here”, that is, in their own skin. the darting eyes, the twitching fingers, the hard bellies without the softness of breath, the constant adjustments without stopping to feel the asana, the need to rush on to the next asana, these are all dead give-aways of disembodiment.
I teach a slow flow vinyasa, moving with the breath, and also yin. Yin is a style that can make people uncomfortable in their own skin because they have to be still for at least five minutes in order to stretch the connective tissue (and thereby the meridians of the body) in order to facilitate opening and an increased flow of chi. it’s a style that teaches you to stop resisting, first in your yoga, but more importantly, I believe, in your life.
it is also a style that connects you to the concept of surrendering to your body. I think the concept of surrender is a dirty word to many western yogis because the western mindset is conditioned for resistance and hardness, in other words, “working out.” I believe that the way you do your yoga is the way you live your life…soft v. hard, resistance v. surrender, rushed v. slow, pushing away v. acceptance.
In my Mindfulness Yoga and Meditation Training we must do periodic readings and one reading was a chapter called “Sensations” from Aligned, Relaxed, Resilient: The Physical Foundations of Mindfulness by Will Johnson. as I was reading a light bulb went off over my head and I said “YES!, this is why people are uncomfortable meditating”. not because our minds run away with us, which is what people always say, but because we run away from our physical sensations. what comes up in asana practice or when we try to meditate draws us into the present moment and sometimes that’s a terrifying place to be. the present moment helps us experience life in the here and now instead of regretting the past or anticipating the future. the present moment helps us become embodied rather than disembodied. when we stop feeling our physical sensations, when we run away from them, when we are “out there” instead of “in here”, that is when the monkey mind takes over. that’s when I see the twitching fingers and the darting eyes.
it’s hard to be still because we are conditioned to run.
Johnson says that “it is not possible to be aware of the full presence of bodily sensations and lost in the involuntary monologue of the mind at the same time.” Buddha said that “everything that arises in the mind starts flowing with a sensation on the body.”
Below is an excerpt from one of my favorite blogs The Absent Mind. In this post Mike writes about meditation, surrender, and acceptance:
I’ve been feeling that I could actually meditate indefinitely, if not for physical limitations. And even then, I could probably bear any level of physical discomfort. Somewhere along the line, I passed a point where I stopped resisting or expecting anything from meditation. Or life for that matter. The two go hand in hand.
…I still resist life here and there like everyone else. But not nearly as much as I once did. With regard to meditation, I am in awe of the beauty of utter simplicity. A friend of mine once said that transformation is the shift from nothing is very satisfying to nothing is very satisfying. Brilliant, and oh, so True.
When people ask me about meditation, they often tell me they have tried it but can’t sit still for even 15 minutes. What can I tell them? Practice.
Here is another hint that might unlock the door for some. The reason that people can’t sit still in meditation (or any other part of life) is that they want to eliminate what they perceive as the negative. In the case of meditation, it can be mind chatter or whatever unpleasant thoughts or feelings arise. How many times have I heard the words, “If I could only quiet my mind …”?
But the problem with that perspective is this: reducing the negative in anything only changes the scale on which you operate. It never eliminates duality. For example, if you reduce mind chatter to the point where you only have a fleeting thought once every 2 minutes, you may still be just as annoyed by that thought as you were with constant mind chatter. There is no escape from thoughts, feelings, or any other forms of negativity. There is only surrender, acceptance.
As one of life’s most excruciating ironies, a funny thing happens with surrender. Gradually one opens up to the profound beauty in every movement, thought, feeling, or stirring. One becomes able to perceive even the slightest shift in energy, and the Silence of Pure Being arises amidst the storm of thinking, feeling, and otherwise being alive.
In my comment to his post I said that when people try to meditate they usually run from any type of temporary physical sensation. Mike said: “I notice this, too, when attending yoga classes. The most challenging (yet also most satisfying) aspect of the asana is the relaxing into body consciousness. Of course, this is why breath is so important, because it is synonymous with energy flow and the consciousness of the body.” (emphasis added.)
Mike said that he pondered the question, “why does consciousness follow this body around?” and when he asked his teacher, his teacher said “‘the body is consciousness.’ …there is no separation of mind and body, they are one and the same.”
mind + body = no duality. until we understand that, we’re not doing yoga.