Here we are in the beginning years of a new millennium. Advances in computerized technology, automotive creations and biogenetic manipulations have propelled the modern world into an extreme fast-forward rhythm. These changes that are experienced, and the effort spent in coexisting with them, can be tremendous. This heightened state of living must have a counterbalance, a state that is steady and serene. To many, this state is called yoga.
What is yoga? One might say it is a way of being that encompasses a multidimensional awareness. This allows an individual to gain realization(s) into life and how to be with their ‘self.’ The general public might associate yoga with the image of a bendy, breathing person twisting and stretching in and out of physical positions. Another idea, might be of a person sitting in stillness, who embodies a calm and introverted presence. One other idea, might be a gathering of health food eating, herbal tea drinking folk united in glee & song. All of these examples are reflections of the deeper aims of yoga - to shed light upon the primordial questions of, ‘What is it?’ and ‘Who am I?’
So, how do practices in meditation, respiration, physical postures, introversion and relaxation relate with the examination of the spirit? One might answer, ‘to sense the body-mind unit, as an instrument of the self, within the heart of relationships and the environment.’
Shifting in and out of asanas aka physical shapes, one might find delight in some and not so much in others. Asanas might provoke moods that affect one’s prana (qi) aka life energy. A steady awareness of this provides a ‘clear seeing’ of the koshas aka layers of the self: physical, energetic, mental, transcendental and integrated.
There is no one-way to do yoga, there are numerous ways, and the best is to find your own way. When you take the time to slow down, tune in and be alive in your unique nature, you take part in a timeless custom shared by all of humanity. A mantra of ‘curiosity & creativity,’ might be kept in mind and in the breath, which resides in the heart... that lives in the body.
Sensations and Pain
Every time a yogi moves his or her self into different physical shapes with intentional respiration, an opportunity arises to scan his or her body for sensations. This might provide insight into states of being, anatomical structure and function. Yet, if the mind is conditioned to only name intense feelings as ‘pain,’ then important corporal information might be overlooked or covered up.
Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that pain is supposed to be a part of exercise and that it is actually needed in order to receive health benefits. This might suit the sports mentality of winning or perhaps conquering. The yogic view, looks for liberation not domination, and a simple way to do this is by carefully tuning into the signals of the body, both obvious and subtle.
Yes, there are times in my own practice when I may experience pain, but I will stop and witness the actual signal. Then, I can give it a description - depending on the quality that the feeling emanates. Curiously, I find it may be tenderness, sharpness, dullness, electrical or perhaps an undulating vibration. I slow down, tune in, pay attention and become interested in what messages are showing up.
Sometimes, what might be unpleasant is really my mind’s association of the sensation with an old injury, past event or lesson. It might be a fear of going into a new place that is unknown or confusing. When I hold a steady awareness, I experience the sensations differently with an improved understanding of their origins. This fresh insight, reveals a connection to the energy body aka pranamaya kosha. This opens a new door to an inner dimension of yoga.
The brilliance of a personal practice is the simplicity of its beginning. It can always begin by being mindful of how one breathes. Take a moment right now, and notice the inhale & exhale.
This alone, is a good start to cultivate a regular solo practice. Pay attention to breathing, and automatically become aware of the internal life - presently. The breath is an instant reminder of one’s presence. When one observes the pattern of breath with care, it’s a gentle reminder of ‘being.’
Some find it difficult to make time to practice at home or outside of class. What can be done, is to accumulate incremental minutes of practice during the day. What might happen after sitting in a chair for a few hours? Get up and stretch a bit! This takes about half a minute. How about add one or two more stretches to that? Then do a couple of sets of those three things? That might be about 5 minutes of practice right there. Add conscious breathing to those movements and look at that, a yoga session is being created!
Once ready to practice more thoroughly alone, create an area on a floor space or use an outdoor place. Work with what is available to integrate practice into daily life. When I lived in a small studio apartment in the city, I would practice tai qi by modifying movements to fit in the small quarters. Luckily, next door to my building was an abandoned embassy, with a parking lot and a wrap around porch, that I would use for solo practice from time to time.
Time is usually the main excuse for not practicing. There is a difference in not ‘having’ the time and not ‘making’ the time. In reality, what one makes time for is what is priority. So, what are the priorities? What changes can be made?
A solo practice, provides space for beautiful self-discoveries. This is a wonderful gift of yoga. Sun salutations don’t have to be done every time and neither do headstands (unless you like to). Do whatever! Just take the time to sit, be, move, breathe, feel and observe. Just like that. It can be a subtle and powerful way to profoundly see into the many layers of what it is to be a human being.
Namaste, (respect) Daniel