October 10, 2013

A Monkey’s Practice.

I’ve waited to write this blog because frankly, it’s a little personal—my friend Michael says I’m foolish to even consider sharing.

Actually, he might have said brave—but I think he actually meant foolish.

Anyway, you know the second sentence in the first book of the Yoga Sutras?


योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः ॥२॥

yogaś-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ ||2||

When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear. ||2||

Well, that’s not the state I live in—or practice in, either.

My brain chatters constantly. And yes, even when I practice yoga. Even while I’m breathing with sound, looking at a single point, making my shape—there’s almost constant thought. I know the monkey mind is not a new concept and most of us have one but I have a family of ’em. A whole forest full. The medical world has another name for this, but let’s not go there right now …

Yoga turns the volume down but it never turns it off. And for me, that’s enough of a reprieve. Or it was …

Last week, I practiced with a teacher I love and trust immensely. That part is important to know only because I’m not sure what happened could’ve happened without his guidance and my faith.

My practice has gotten very difficult. It requires from me more strength and openness than I even thought possible. All by itself, it kicks my ass most mornings. But that weekend, my limits were tested and pushed to my edge. No rest. Keep going. Keep moving. I was allowed no time to figure it out, analyze or consider. His voice was commanding and just when I thought I could take no more …

It happened.

I stopped thinking. I only heard my breath—the sound like underwater breathing. I don’t remember the postures I took or even how long it lasted, but for the first time, I was totally absorbed. No monkeys. No vrittis.

It’s hard for me to make complete sense of this. My rational brain says I should be able to find this state in the more ordinary and mundane. That the sheer ease of movements I know well should lull me into a peaceful state as it seems to for others but they don’t. In fact, for me it was the opposite—it was the overstimulation that allowed me to finally succumb.

But that makes perfect sense, actually. Because it’s not that I can’t pay attention to anything—it’s that I pay attention to everything.

The moments I was able to find that total absorption came at me like a whir. There was nothing to attach to as it all moved so fast. The thoughts and emotions became unidentifiable. I could only hear my breath, it was all that stood out. Total peace in a very surreal way.

Drenched with sweat, exhausted on the razor’s edge, I have perhaps never felt as calm or peaceful as in those moments. I can only imagine this is what runner’s describe as their high.

I’m pretty sure this is exactly what another teacher of mine has been trying to explain. One of his favorite sayings is, “there’s no place for placing“—in other words, move and lose the hesitation. Find the gap between two thoughts and stay there.

There’s been some banter on the inter webs and social sites about how much time we spend on our mats. At times, it’s been a bit critical. I’ve heard some chide, spend less time on your mat and more time in self study through meditation and reading. Ashtanga is eight limbs and asana is only one.

But here’s the thing…I’m not sure if I’ll ever find that place sitting. I hope and pray to God, I will. So until then, I’ll be on my mat searching. Because now I know that place actually exists—I found it once and hopefully again.

The gap, where all thoughts cease.

Even for me and my family of monkeys.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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