Last night I was in avoidance mode.
I was watching television or dreaming up concoctions in the kitchen. This began with homemade guacamole and ended with chickpea popcorn roasted in the oven with herbs the downstairs tenants grew in the backyard and draped in margarine. Very delicious and not horrendously lacking in nutrition but I digress.
I was finding ways to be busy so that I didn’t have to deal with what was bothering me. In the end, I brought myself back and ended with a decision that on the surface does not seem to be loaded with logic but that left me more content and relaxed. Just as soon as I stopped refusing to look at the problem, I knew what I had to do, regardless of how it might appear.
I have been practicing yoga almost daily and when it came time to get myself ready yesterday there was resistance. I didn’t really want to exert any effort. What if I go to practice and take it easy, I thought?
This seemed like a radical idea. I’ve been through so many journeys during the course of practice and I anticipate with delight the many that have yet to come. I ride the injuries. I crawl the days I’m exhausted and I don’t take child’s pose so much as fall my way there and find myself quiet in the pose half an hour later.
I power through my practice not quite present at all. I try over and over again to get myself into handstand and over and over again I plop back onto my mat without the alignment I began with. I experience grief and I can barely practice at all but if I just sit and try to lift my chest just the tiniest bit out of its implosion some of the pain seems to roll off the body.
Miraculous and beautiful.
I have practiced restorative yoga and power yoga and hatha and vinyasa and on but some strands more than others leave us reaching for the next pose, striving to do headstand or pincha mayurasana or trying to perfect the jump through or a particular arm balance that seems to evade your body, and we get lost.
Lost in the striving, lost in the wanting to be other that we are. In wanting our body to be other than it is. And the t-shirt that has “I am enough” emboldened on the front is just another slogan that doesn’t reach us, that leaves us without any idea of how we might embody the concept.
It is a fine balance though.
For some people, they need to learn effort more than surrender, their tendency being to take it too easy, to relax into poses they know rather than try something new, something they are unsure of, resting on the side of safety, of the assured. We might notice it changes too, altering from day to day, from pose to pose. Welcome to the dance of surrender and effort.
I like to think of this dance as a see-saw, tipped at any given moment and in every single asana to one side or the other, toward either effort or surrender. When we notice or tendency to tip more in one direction than another, we can bring it back.
Think of a skilled partner leading you in dance. They don’t push you into position or pull you so hard you think your arm might dislocate. Instead, there is a gentle quality, a subtle hand that almost seems to ask nothing at all, that does not ask your body to move with theirs so much as suggests it. Sthira sukham asanam, was how Patanjali put it. Steadiness and ease, my fellow practitioners. Steadiness and ease.
Janet Stone does a workshop about the yamas in which she talks about how we might take ahimsa in to our bodies on our very own mats. I love this because it is not some grandiose task in the grandiose world but a concrete way we can practice ahimsa wherever we are, on our own little rectangle of rubber real estate.
What would it be to practice non-violence on the mat?
To allow your body to take the lead, to allow it take you where it wants to go. A radical act, yes. In return, the frustration we sometimes experience of not accomplishing a pose falls way, gets subtracted from the equation. Maybe we have a little voice that has gotten hold of a stick and asks us why we can’t do something we could do yesterday.
Consider what is guiding you today. Consider dropping the stick. Allow your asanas to be fluid from day to day.
It has been said that overtime yoga practice becomes more about moving organically, with the body taking the lead.
Overtime yes, but also today, if we are willing. In the same way as we start to open the heart in practice, we start to lead more from there automatically. We don’t think what does the heart want—in doing so we are returning to the province of the mind—instead we feel the way. And sometimes it looks like an action that lacks logic in the world. A world that gets lost because it is so reliant on this logic.
If you have a regular practice or an irregular practice for that matter, I suggest you incorporate this idea of ahimsa in to your asana practice and into your body on a regular basis.
To surrender, to truly surrender is an action, and a radical one at that.
Your practice will be different and in to that space perhaps we can softly and with compassion begin to ask ourselves why.
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Assist. Ed: Jade Belzberg/Ed: Bryonie Wise
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