Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The implications of moving into Mysore

Today, marked the first day of a full mysore style practice for my students at Breathe Los Gatos. A couple of brave souls had taken the leap last week, coming in earlier than usual and starting their sun salutations in silence. They carried on, practicing pratyahara, as I guided others in the room through the Primary Series. And today, perhaps inspired, others joined them in self-practice.

I walked through the room, trying my best to be present and meet every student exactly where they were. As I took in the energy of the room, the beauty of the practice as manifested in these particular bodies overwhelming me at times, I felt so fortunate to be part of their journey. This is how teaching is done: one body in one posture at a time. This is how we learn: by noticing our own tendencies, by being called to notice our unconsciousness, and, with lots and lots of love. There is no yoga without love. There is no yoga if it's just a push and pull to get to the next place, the next pose, over there. So I facilitated the coming back, the perpetual return to the roots, to the breath, to the present, direct experience. I was fully aware of the gravity of the situation: this is a pivotal, monumental shift, to go from being guided and led to taking responsibility for your own practice. It's going from being a tourist to learning how to inhabit the space, to learn the customs of the new country, to learn how to get along and perhaps, even thrive. It's not an easy shift. When we move from the environment of a led class to a self-practice, all of our old defense and coping mechanisms fall away and suddenly become inadequate. We become incredibly vulnerable. We can no longer hide. We can no longer take the habitual roles in the yoga room: the wallflower, the show off, the daydreamer, the joker, etc. Everyone is at a different point, and so, we come to a posture, and for the most part, nobody is paying attention to you, because they are trying to figure out how to be in this foreign land on their own.

But perhaps the most powerful and noticeable part of this experience is the fact that whatever comes up is ours and ours alone to see. Whereas in a guided class, we may project our feelings--jealousy, love, anger, hatred, lust, envy, inadequacy, judgement, etc.--onto the teachers, fellow practitioners, and the external environment, in a mysore class, it becomes starkly apparent that all of those feelings were about yourself all along. This is not something to take lightly. This is work that for some people can take years and years of psychotherapy and self-inquiry to see! This kind of deep seeing is also one of the reasons to stay in the Primary Series for as long as possible, to root and ground and work through stabilizing and preparing the mind, before moving on to the energetic roller coaster of the Intermediate Series. The way this practice is set up, we may initially get a larger dose of self-awareness that we can handle.

From my teacher, Richard Freeman:

Through hatha yoga practices we can actually
begin to identify the physiological processes
that are at the root of our mind. Of course it is
the mind that causes suffering, but the very 
same mind allows for liberation and freedom. 
By unlinking the physical patterns of breath
that lie within our body from the antics of the mind,
we can allow both body and mind to work more
intelligently, and eventually, rather than perpetuating 
our own suffering, we can begin to make inroads
into our release from suffering.

The proper breathing awakens the body. Through this awakening, we unravel deeply held  emotions, and we begin to feel very strongly. The Primary Series, for me, was about recognizing the sadness and sorrow that I had carried around with me, feeling it intensely, crying on my mat at times, and moving onto the process of recognizing the strength, that was also, inherent in me. Most of the sadness was not my own; it was familial and cultural sorrow that I had not been able to name up to that point, so I had owned them out of a sense of duty and habit. The process of constant reframing that this practice taught me, the refrains of I am not my sadness, I am not the stories that I've told myself, I am not that: neti neti, and the questions within the questions: if not this, then who am I? have taught me to separate the Self from the thought pattern, and always, look for context. Who is it that is aware of the sadness/pain/anger? What is this awareness, and what else does she know? There is incredible freedom in dipping below the surface, because it shows us a path that we did not know existed.

With correct, deep breathing, we also awaken the energetic body. Our nervous energy, either lethargic or 'buzzing', changes into a more consistent, steady flow for the duration of the practice. This change brings up resistance. We are going against our grain. Tapas is the heat that comes from this friction. And, as always, our ego will put up a fight to try and keep the status quo. So, what do we do?

The physical, tangible principles that we use for the body apply to the mind as well. When in doubt, start from the roots. Work on grounding, coming back to this earth, and use the breath the calm the mind. Also, recognize that much like the physical practice, the internal work cannot be done overnight. Pace your self-inquiry over the long run of your practice; pace and regulate the processing that happens in the practice by continuously returning to the breath, the roots, the calm drishti, and the alignment points in the postures. Recognize the tendencies, the patterns, and do not identify with them. Watch the theater and move on. Do not get sucked into the stories. Don't get carried away with energetic sensations, and do not get attached to them. They come and go. Giving them too much importance will reinforce the existing patterns of grasping and wanting to be special, aversion and attraction. Just as is important to know how to get out of a posture, it is important to know how to put yourself back together at the end of practice. Be mindful of how your process might affect others around you. Remember, yoga is to place every sentient being in your heart. Practice compassion (for yourself and others), and have a sense of humor about it all. We are fortunate to be doing this work, to be raising our consciousness; this is a luxury. Notice your resistance around practice, acknowledge it, and then get on the mat anyway. This is not a reckless fearlessness; it is being present with the fear, and proceeding mindfully. Notice the tendencies to create dualities: good sensation/bad sensation, good thought/bad thought, good practice/bad practice. The practice is not a war, not a battle; everything that comes up is sacred. Everything.

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