The translation of the word asana as “posture” or “pose” seems lacking in that yoga is about relationship not positioning. When you are in relationship to something, you are movable and adjust accordingly: you might feel that your stride is too long in a warrior one because your inner arch is collapsing and your knee is punky, so you shift. Whereas when you position yourself, you are aiming for the shape without any regard to how things fit together to create it.
Our thinking minds get hung up on this shape or that shape and we wonder and ask ourselves and our teachers if we are doing it right. As if filling the rupa, the form, or the yama, the container of the pose could bring us straight to samadhi. This happens in life, too. All my friends are getting married, all my friends are having kids, that must be what I should be doing. (This is just an example, obviously… even though, wait, all my friends are getting married and having kids!) I must hit those benchmarks for myself. It is what people do. We are always measuring ourselves against the shapes we know, the structures we have created or found. Social, cultural, mental shapes.
But our bodies and our spirits are unique. They are so far from a template or a form. They are expansive, wild and not as easily tamed- they are limitless, round and full of spirals, contrasts, contradictions and disparities. And we each come with our own set of optimal needs and requirements to find a true sense of equipoise. Archetypal shapes give our brains context and understanding. But they are wanton. To work with them well, we negotiate a third space. The relationship between the joyous singularity of who we are and what our body actually is and feels like and it’s connection to that “idyllic” shape or archetype brings us to the happy place. The sweet spot. The place where our body is steady in a pose and the place where we are well adjusted within the netting of our lives. That third space, that relationship, shifts as everything else changes so that we can continue to stay afloat and in good dynamic tension.
The astanga invocation to the teachers speaks of the teacher having two feet, a red foot and a white foot, each representing a point of view. Theirs and yours/yours and theirs. When the yogi navigates the tension between the two points of view, it dispels what is called samsara halahala. Samsara means cycle and halahala in mythology is a poison that came from gods and demons joining forces to release the nectar of immortality. They were trying to end the cycle of opposites: life/ death, purusa/prakriti, prana/apana and the list goes on. But it’s impossible and not desirable. So the outcome was poison. When you don’t engage in receiving information, you are neglecting your faculties and in mythological terms injesting poison. Not because the information is bad but simply because you’ve given up your power of attorney, so to speak, by not looking at it.
In the story, Siva, who is the maha deva, the supreme God, understands he has to get rid of that poison. He knows that between two extremes lies an integrity which cannot exist without that tension. So he drinks it to save us from it, but instead of swallowing it, he keeps it in his throat. He just keeps it there. That’s why his throat is sometimes darker in renderings, the poison turns it dark blue.
Good learning happens when information coming through all of our senses is tried on and digested but not necessarily swallowed. When we create a relationship to the experience. Working and understanding the tension between things reveals a space where integrity is born. The space of ease- sukha. This space makes us better fit to weather change because it ebbs and flows as needed.
Yoga is this process. We are involved in it naturally anyway even if we don’t practice yoga. We etch hard circles in the sand only to have the ocean come up and wash them away. Our beliefs, how we feel, everything we know constantly gets blown down only to expose another layer of refinement and finesse. We reinvent ourselves all the time because we realize how small or reduced our thinking and feeling has become. So we tear it down and start over to tune it to our new understanding. Much like an instrument must be tuned to the orchestra every night, we are constantly tuning ourselves into a better clearer note and if we are mindful, working toward the perfection of our true note and timbre. Not the ideal, but our own ideal.
As for me, I am not naturally soft or sweet. My sadhana, practice, has allowed sweetness and softness both in and out over time. It has been a gift when they happen, but it’s a struggle. And I am always finding my sticky patches and continuing to work through them. This finessing and readjusting process is living. I have learned over time that there is no need to get frustrated by it, though sometimes I still do, because it is the work and there will always be things to tweak and finesse. It is humbling.
This year, I would like to go back to the basics, cultivating wonder, trust and a beginners mind. It brings me to one of my favorite quotes by Masahide “Barn’s burnt down- now I can see the moon.” Happy new year yogis! Thank you for a beautiful 2014.
If you are still thinking about coming to Colombia, let me know. We still have a couple of spots left. I just got back and it was heavenly! No schedule changes for the New Year other than Flight School now a Kula Flow. If there is anything you want from me any ideas or anything you want more of, please let me know. Let’s work on some new chants together! May we all go back to a humbler beginning, knowing less wondering more in 2015.
Om bolo sri sat Guru baghavana ki!!!