How do you connect within the depths of stillness when there is nowhere you need to go, nothing you need to do?
It’s so easy to lose the point of it all when I’m elbow deep in a puddle of sweat, flowing freely to the sound of some exaggerated world drum beat. Me, my mat, my practice, my movement—just the way I like it!
And then all of a sudden it hits me:
“What exactly am I doing this for?”
I’m quite sure the point is not to have a sore core tomorrow or to perspire my way into a state of dizziness. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a pretzel shape, limbs all intertwined and my mind is stuck on that annoying client I faced yesterday, the friend that always unloads her drama, the dog that ate my favorite shoes.
Now, I admit I may not fully comprehend yet exactly what it is, but I’m relatively sure that this experience is not why I came to the mat in the first place.
This cluttered, active mind is not it. Somewhere along my journey into sun salutations and warrior flows I’ve lost sight of my ultimate goal, perhaps even of of yoga’s ultimate goal, if it could be said to have one.
Immersed deep in a course entitled The Art of Flow and within the grand potency of Costa Rica’s Pavones Yoga Center, our teacher, Indira, posed a question:
“What does flow mean to you?”
As a group we seemed to come to a collective agreement that flow tends to bring a sense of all-connectedness when one finds themselves in it. I explored the meaning of surrender, a word that tends to conjure up an image of movement, a sinking, floating, a seeping down into what presently is.
Letting go. Those words within themselves invoke action. So it was the peculiar answer from one particular classmate that struck me hard, an answer which I’ve carried with me all of this time. Chris raised his hand from the back of the class and said:
“For me, right now, flow is stillness.”
Well, my reaction was: Mind. Officially. Blown.
Stillness and flow. Are they one in the same? Related? Brothers from the same family unit? Could it be?
I have continued to explore stillness in my personal practices on and off the mat. My flow has slowed. My awareness has deepened. My priorities have shifted. It’s a phrase I use in my teachings all the time, but now I’ve begun to see how much I needed to integrate it into my off-the-mat life too.
Yoga prepares us to be still. Paul Grilley says that this sense of heaviness and inhibition of movement which accompanies a Yin Yoga practice is:
“A desirable state and…a perfect prelude to meditation…Many people are so nervous they literally cannot sit still” [Yin Yoga Principles & Practice].
Teachers, have you ever observed the difficulty many students experience remaining still in savasana? Grilley suggests that an “immobilizing inner calm” is really the ultimate goal.
Stillness. Tranquility. Oh…right.
Sure glad I’ve put in about 3,000 chaturangas over the years.
On that note, let’s get back to the poses. Yes, the twisty, turny, upside down shapes we find ourselves in. Asana. I hate to break it to you (and to myself), but postures are only one part of the yogic path. One-eighth of the yogic path to be exact; one-eighth of the path that I happen to adore.
Many find themselves exploring already the yamas (behaviors) and niyamas (observances). Every student has at least scratched the surface of pranayama (breath practice) with their ocean breath. Each limb helps prepare us perfectly for the next. Step-by-step we develop until further up the tree trunk we find the final four limbs: pratyahara (withdrawal/detachment), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (bliss).
These are the most challenging limbs, reserved for the bravest and the most disciplined: those that are quiet and still in body and mind. None of these limbs require me to wrap my leg around my neck. In fact, in complete contradiction, as I creep toward these higher limbs I am asked to sit my bum down and stay.
Sit. Stay. Breathe. Be present.
Oh brother, could this get any harder?
All of this time I’ve been worried about my backbends, when I should’ve been perfecting my savasana.
Finding this state of in-action is the ever present challenge that I face within myself. I always have and always will love a good sweaty vinyasa but, over the previous few years, my mind has shifted me toward a solid Yin Yoga practice.
I’m ready for some stillness in my life. I’ve prepared for a long time. I’ve been thinking lately that a lack of activity, both physical and mental, creates the same sense of all—a connectedness which we seek through yoga practice, that sensation we describe when we find ourselves in the flow.
I feel it, I observe it, I embody it.
I know my arrival at the point of stillness will be fleeting. That’s why I keep coming back to the mat. Until I can stop shifting thoughts toward the grumpy client, the needy friend, the spoiled dog, I will keep coming back to my asana and use it as a guide into the world of quietude.
Two steps forward, one step back. Mine is not a leap into stillness, it’s a tip-toe. And I’m okay with savoring each step along the way.
Kristin Lynn Gilbert is a yogini, teacher, writer, body/energy worker, business owner, dreamer, lifelong student and jungle trekker who is passionate about service and commUNITY. She calls the South Caribbean of Costa Rica her home where she resides on the beach alongside her husband, dogs, horses and a goat. When not creating dream boards, whipping up local vegetarian yumminess, yoga-ing, dancing or studying you might find her swinging on vines with her howler monkey friends, building sandboxes at local schools or wiping out continuously on her longboard at low-tide. For more about Kristin and her space in the South Caribbean check out her website or send her a message at [email protected]
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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing/Ed: Bryonie Wise