My Practice Today
(Continued from The Healing Begins)
Life Is Yoga
The question I was asked this week led me to sharing more about myself than I ever have in a blog. I am grateful for the opportunity to share about myself. So how has yoga affected my life? I feel yoga is my life, so I don’t know how to separate myself from Yoga to express how it affected my life.
Yoga is life. It is everything. It is the way the branches of each tree converge and make entirely unique patterns in each tree. It is within the mystery of life unfolding and it is the mystery itself. It is the gut “knowing” we all have from deep within and it is within the surrendered not knowing.
After two teacher training programs and much in depth study since those early years of practice and awakening, Yoga now forms the root of my being. It creates the foundation of the way I receive the moment, the way I process information, the way I experience life.
When I say “yoga”, I don’t mean bendy, physical exercises. Those are only a small part of a broad life science. Ultimately, Yoga is about merging back with the one source of pure consciousness, dissolving our identification with our ego, with feeling separate. Yoga is built upon the practice of humility, letting go and surrender. When we allow ourselves to release, we return to flow with a force much greater than our individual will. We begin to live in rhythm with the infinite, as a witness to the finite, rather than bound by the finite, wondering if the infinite exists.
My Practice Today
In my current practice, Yoga is about witnessing and cultivating a balanced state of being in each moment, softening to a rooted and surrendered state that is part of a much bigger flow. In that state, the notion of separation begins to release and I find a unity with a immensity beyond the sense of “me”.
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika speaks of the need for yogis to cultivate “sukha and stira”, a balanced state of being neither too relaxed nor too alert. I tuck that away in the back of my mind and let it be the backdrop of my day, a sort of canvas upon which the events of the day can be painted. I refer to this throughout the day, and inquire into how I am interacting with my environment, with others and with myself. I find this very useful to keep the notion of Yoga alive in each moment throughout the day. Ultimately, what else is there? Are we not all ultimately merging back to the one, each one of us more receptive to such in our own way?
When we take the notion of “sukha and stira” and apply it to our way of thinking (not just to the way we move or breathe as we would in a Hatha Yoga practice), we learn to be alert and receptive in each moment, finding a balance between being relaxed and focus, neither stressed nor spaced out. I find that very useful in the pace of today’s world. Our mind broadens and becomes more perceptive and able to receive information and possibilities.
Each moment is full of information, which we can receive by softening or reject by reacting to it and shutting down. My breath is my best friend. By being aware of how I am breathing, I can see immediately how I am thinking. Throughout the day, I ask myself: “Am I holding my breath? Is my breath flowing? Do I feel the interconnection through the breath between the world beyond my skin and the world behind my skin?” Yoga is the way in which I choose to practice walking on the Earth, neither stepping sheepishly nor too aggressively. Yoga is the way I choose to practice balance in relationship, open to a co-creative, fluid, win-win experience that resonates inwardly and feels harmonious outwardly.
To me, the way in is sitting meditation. It is like priming the pump of consciousness so that it flows in abundance throughout the day. Though I still do physical practice, the majority of my practice revolves around sitting and walking meditation.
YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine
The years of exploring the meaning of Yoga and how to integrate it into my life led to a deeper listening to an arising from within. That arising guided my physical yoga practice and brought grounded meaning to my day. I don’t feel I “created” YEM. It blossomed through my life experience.
YEM aims to both infuse the body/being with consciousness and awaken the inner intelligence already present within the body/being. It awakens vital energy through mindful breathing, meditations, vital energy work and subtle attention to yoga postures. It guides the practitioner more deeply into the body, into the present. This is done through exercises that clear the body’s energy channels (nadis), in order to master vital energy (prana and shakti), and tap into unlimited power and ease (samadhi).
When beginning with YEM, there are two suggested points of focus: the flow of breath and the sensations that run through the body. The aim of all forms of yoga is to experience the oneness of body, mind and spirit. The breath acts as an interface between that which we perceive as outside our self and that which we experience within. The breath moves continuously within and without. Focusing our awareness on the breath assists the dissolve of the sense of division between what we see as outside our self (other) and that which we feel is within (mine).
The objective of breath awareness is to eventually experience a greater sense of personal wholeness and oneness with all things. It assist us in becoming simultaneously more globally aware and personally centered. Awareness on the inhalation draws our awareness inward, into our body/being. Awareness of the sensations within our body allows us to feel more at home in our body and anchor the experience of our breath in a tangible way. Focus on the exhalation allows for expansion and release.
There is tremendous spaciousness and ease inherent in the aerial quality of the breath. That spaciousness is brought into the body/being on the inhalation and is allowed to permeate through the body/being on the exhalation.
Breath and sensation are continuously interrelating. An embodied, yogic state is an expression of the dance between spirit and matter. The Sanskrit word Tantra, a branch of yoga, means “to weave” or “to expand”. In this way, yoga is about weaving a dance between spirit (breath) and matter (body) while liberating dormant potential energies and infusing the body/being with consciousness. Focus on the interplay between breath and sensation becomes a meditation on the relationship between spirit and matter and allows for greater synergy between these two.
YEM is distinguished by integrating specific key points of awareness, such as:
1) Downward moving energy: Gravity anchors the body/being to the center of the Earth.
2) Upward moving energy: Inspiration connects us infinitely towards the cosmos.
3) The spine: The body’s central channel of universal energy.
4) Two-way-moving energy: In all poses there is at least two-way energy at all times.
5) Pelvic tilt: This is an expression of belly breathing. Our center of gravity is just below the navel. A tailbone tilt on the exhale releases energy downward so that subsequent upward moving energy can arise through the body and float into the crown.
6) Breath awareness: The breath is an interface between body, mind, spirit and soul. Focusing on this clears the subtle channels of the body and allows for integration of body, mind, spirit and soul.
7) Emotional awareness: Emotions bridge the physical and intellectual bodies. By practicing mindfulness, one comes more fully into the present, where healing and transformation occur.
8) Circuit breakers: The first cervical vertebrae (C1) at the very top of the neck, and the tailbone (the coccyx) at the base of the spine, when properly aligned, allow for upward and downward moving energy.
9) Body intelligence: Inherent intelligence exists within the body to be simultaneously released and cultivated. Through breath awareness we infuse the body/being with consciousness and awaken inner intelligence.
10) Global balance: Develop a balanced state of being that is both relaxed pleasure-delight (sukha) and firm alertness (stira).
11) Spaciousness: Allow room for the breath to permeate your body/being by doing 80% your maximum. Create spaciousness and ease rather than tension and compression.
12) Co-creation: When in a integrated state of being, a flowing pulse moves through the spine and radiates throughout the body. It is available in every posture. It is an expression of the co-creative interplay between downward and upward moving energy, rooting us in the personal and opening us to the global.
Tomorrow I will post the answer to a new question, continuing to post thoughts on that topic through the week. You can submit your question for the following week by emailing [email protected]