This course, “Zen Motion,” embodies the essence of our practice, investigating the clear nature of mind. In this class we look to activate wakefulness not only in asana, but in standing, walking, sitting and lying down. We train on and off the mat, alone or together, resting still or moving. The aim of our practice is to see into the “original brightness” of our awareness itself, not as a static, isolated event had on the meditation cushion or in asana, but in the midst of everyday events. We train so that all moments, no matter the moment, occur in the bright field of our wakeful state. This awareness is ordinary, not contrived, or polished, or sacred–but ordinary. As my Tibetan teacher Tsoknyi Rinpoche said, this mind is “more ordinary than ordinary mind.
I experienced Tias Little’s Zen Motion at the Telluride Yoga Festival this past July. The class took place in Telluride’s Ah Haa School for the Arts, a large rectangular building, the bulk of which is a gallery for local artists. An imitation of Warhol’s famous Campbell’s Soup Can stood out on one wall; three tie-died silk cones hung from another corner; a burnt knot of twisted metal that once served as a bicycle occupied a third. The whimsical room—old creaking wooden floors, open windows giving out on the gurgling stream—set the stage for a different kind of yoga class, not your run-of-the-mill conference presentation abounding with sweat and spandex.
As soon as everyone had laid out their mats and begun their usual pre-class down dog, Tias asked us to roll up our mats. He prefaced the class by quoting Shunryu Suzuki Roshi: “The mirror-nature of emptiness—sunyata—retains all the time its original brightness, and is never once beclouded by anything outside which is reflected upon it.” I looked around and wondered if anyone was getting this. Mostly people looked a little spaced out, some looked ready for action. Tias kept speaking, in his gentle, meditative way, explaining that we were going to be moving, mostly walking, for over an hour, and we could take a break at any time if things got too rigorous. The roots of yoga asana come from a desire to experience the clear light nature of mind, he said, the mind described by Buddhists and yogis as luminous, stable, empty, and always accessible underneath the mundane chatter of self-conscious thought. Tias developed the idea for Zen Motion through his contemplations on how to experience this mind in everyday waking life, not just in sitting meditation or breath-conscious asana. After a short guided meditation, Tias asked us to stand and find a place in the room, anywhere, facing any which way. And so we began.
The music, a rhythmic droning like the beat of a heart, started us off walking around the room at a normal pace. Tias asked us to be as present as possible, to not plan where we were going next and meet everything in the moment. I examined a still-life painting—a maroon and lime-green parrot against a ferny backdrop. Then the reflection of a face, serious in concentration, as a man walked swiftly by the windows. I moved through the center of the room, felt my feet on the shifting wooden slats, tried to avoid crashing into people but also tried not to care. Then, suddenly, “Drop!” from Tias, and we all dropped to the ground, feeling stillness in the random heap of arms and legs, any old way we happened to have landed. I noticed my breath, the pump of heart and the push of ribs against floorboards. From that angle, eyelashes brushing floor dust, I saw a cracked heel, another breathing belly, the twist of two hairy legs, jumbled bodies making a field of corpses in the room.
Then we were up again, passing the red-and-white Campbell’s Soup Cans, weaving between the shifting silk columns, catching a glimpse of green-blue eye and pursed lips, the small frown when one is trying hard to do it right. Tias kept talking, kept us walking and dropping. Sometimes we gathered into the middle, touching shoulders and waists and arms in a smoosh of bodies, sometimes in the center, sometimes on the periphery. Each moment became a surprise, a new angle, a new brush or knock of someone walking past. We sped up and slowed down. We gathered and we dispersed. The continual movement kept my mind from sticking to any one object of focus—my breath, the wooden floor, the passing paintings. Sidelong glances from others, humming music and tinkling creek, the shifting light in the windows—these distractions became the experience, and I felt mind growing softer, more permeable.
I also noticed others—that quirky stride, one man’s pot belly another woman’s muscular thighs pushing out against her lulu lemon spandex. Swarming towards the center again, I felt both aversion to other bodies so close, and a reaching to connect with the others who, after only three quarters of an hour together, seemed now closer, inside and out, more part of me. I knew this weird sensation of being at once smaller and larger than my physical form, moving in harmony with 30 other people, feeling a mind made of each of us and all of us together. Finally things slowed, we sunk to the ground, and Tias asked us to stay in final Savasana, again a field of corpses.
In the discussion afterwards, people commented on feeling interdependent with everyone else in the room, noticing how each movement affected the whole. One man said he had felt a new heart, one infused with love for all of us there. Another woman had been tired but felt buoyed by the group’s endurance.
Tias read another quote, this time by Dogen:
Now mountains, rivers, earth, the sun, the moon, and stars are the mind. At just this moment, what is it that appears directly in front of you? When we say ‘mountains, rivers, and earth’ we do not merely mean the mountains, rivers, and earth where you are standing…some mountains extend widely, some rise up steeply. A billion worlds and innumerable lands can be found in a mountain. There are mountains suspended in form; there are mountains suspended in emptiness. All this is merely a moment or two of mind…mountains, rivers, earth, and so forth neither exist nor do not exist, they are neither large nor small, not attainable or unattainable, not knowable or unknowable, not penetrable or impenetrable.
From Tias’ Prajna Yoga website:
Tias Little’s background is steeped in both academic study and physical discipline. He began his yoga training in 1984 in the Iyengar system under the guidance of his mother, Susan Little.
Tias’ first trip to India was in 1989. He lived in Mysore for 6 months, learning the first two series of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga with K. Pattabhi Jois.
After practicing Ashtanga Yoga for 10 years, Tias immersed himself in the study of the healing arts, including massage, cranial-sacral therapy and bodywork.
He teaches yoga with a sensitivity and subtlety informed by his anatomical knowledge and keen sense of touch. His teaching is grounded in the structure and precision of alignment from the Iyengar system, while sharing the spaciousness and compassionate wisdom that stems from the Buddhist tradition.
Tias earned an MA in Eastern Philosophy from St. John’s College in 1998. His dharma training has been further informed by teachings from the Zen and Vipassana communities. Tias is currently a student of Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s in the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.