Comfortable + Steady = Yoga

The Yoga Sutras, attributed to Patanjali & widely commented upon, are a book of condensed instructions. Like many ancient & historical texts, they require background knowledge and contemplation to fill in the weave around the threads. In fact one translation for “sutra” is thread. The Sutras are threads our minds may weave with meaning and our bodies may find support in following.

The theme for this upcoming week’s class will be one of the few sutras which instructs us on the physical practice of yoga. II.46 “Sthira Sukham Asanam.” Yoga pose is a steady & comfortable position (in Mukunda Stiles’ translation).

Clearly, if you’ve been to any yoga class, this doesn’t mean we don’t challenge ourselves. In fact, in T.K.V. Desikachar’s more recent book The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice, he writes “A further meaning of the word yoga is “to attain what was previously unattainable.” … when we find the means for bringing that desire into action , that step is yoga. In fact, every change is yoga. For example, when we find a way to bend the body forward and touch our toes, … Each of these movements and changes is yoga.” (p. 5-6)

As yogis, we choose to cultivate our awareness in a place of kind, curious observation while going into places and experiences and thoughts we were not aware of before. Our body is our most personal, first playground for this. So if the challenge today is a forward bend, in yoga our measure for success is not how forward the bend is, but how aware we are in the effort. Are we able to maintain equanimity in effort, to remain steady and make adjustments so our basic stability & comfort are not lost? Yoga is about facing fear, cultivating curiosity with kindness and understanding what is. Our concern with knees and toes and bellies and heads and backs is one of care and curiosity, and hopefully because of that, joy.

Yoga as Union

Sunny salutations & warrior clear vision be yours! Thanks to all of you who have been so kind and so generous in the past few weeks while my beloved & I were getting married. Your bouyant, luminous energy has blessed us palpably. Since I deeply believe, as my phone message says!, that all things can bring us to yoga, the wedding has turned my mind toward the root meaning of yoga as “union”.

Union implies a prior duality, but makes no assumptions about how the duality has come to be. The duality may be actual or merely perceived, and different yoga traditions and philosophies take different stands on this as a metaphysical point. The tradition which resonates most with me (Tantric Shaivism… well represented in Splendor of Recognition) focuses on the inherent unity of all Being and acknowledges differentiation as a moment necessary for self awareness.

While unity is our native state – unity with self, with cosmic bliss and consciousness – our dividedness – self from self, from objects, from universal perception – is necessary for reflection. We have to have divisible moments to be able to look forward and backward. We have to be able to look in either direction to be aware of feeling states and tones, to experience anything at all.

The clearest way to achieve division is through opposition. This & not this. Dark & light. Here & there. Gradations are perceived against this ground.

Yoga – hatha yoga, pranayama, body-grounded-meet-yourself-on-the-mat practice – gives us a palpable way to play on the ground of opposition. Once we’ve made considered distinctions, a new level of awareness is reached by re-alizing the inherent unity that allows consciousness to apprehend the divided objects. In yoga we are playing on the poles between sun & moon, ha-tha, up & down, back & front, inner & outer. Bodies fly up, legs reach down. Arms reach out, sternum expands. Bottom legs press in, upper legs press out. Ball mounts press down, arches fly up. In the opposition of forces we play with in our bodies, we are able to feel, directly experience, a sense of unity arising in the theatre prepared by all of our directed efforts. A new sense of clarity can surprise us amidst the focused attention and directed efforts of embodying this union of opposites.

So viva la difference! and in the exploration, celebration, tension and frustration of difference, take a moment to breathe and notice yoga. Your yoga. Namaste, Christine