Learning to feel, to feel deeply, vividly, intensely, has long been a draw of yoga. People hunger to discover sensations previously only dreamt of. Feats of supreme control, hibernation, slowing the heart, visions, they’re enticing. Are deliciously yummy. A subtle practice, however, takes years of steady application. In an effort to speed things up for the modern audience, superficial feelings have been touted. Sensations easy to reach. Feel “good” for example, in lieu of feel whole. Feel stretch in lieu of feeling natural alignment. Feel spectacular, in lieu of sensational. That’s a shallow bowl of dip. Complex organisms absorb agony, euphoria, frustration, surprise. A blunt life? Hello open-chakra-rainbow feelings. They’re not abstruse.
Nor as filling.
A two-dimensional yoga practice can be flavorful, colorful, and addictive. There’s plenty o’fun accouterments: sexy togs, Nalgene water bottles, jute mats, costume jewelry. There’s no meat to the practice just loving karma good bodies. In the search for a negative-free work space I lower my metabolism, and increase my patience, that’s supposed to be spiritual, right? So why is the yoga teacher having a meltdown? Worried about his “numbers” ? Resentful of the sub? A whirlwind of activity? IMHO his consumption of daily unadulterated yoga intensifies, rarifies, purifies. He’s acting up because of his heightened sensitivity.
Feeling isn’t merely the function of feeling good.
Feeling is the direct result of caring, investing, and released potential. Emotions are to motions, what email is to mail. An electronic signature of what is going on inside of the chemical plant that is me. The moving of energy, Pranayama, is surely “yoga” as much as asana. “Prana” might be rightly translated as force. Definitions of “force” include: influence, push, power, energy, strength, they’re all apropos. Pranayama include mudra, mantra, dristi, breath retention and control and bandha. Ultimately pranayama is the moving of energy under sentient direction.
Asana without pranayama is slightly lifeless.
All the muscles along the inside of my wrist wake up when I do a mudra correctly. Thus aroused, I utilize the entire length of my arm, spreading tension radiantly. Defying gravity takes balanced tension and lift. My muscles remain passive potential until properly engaged. Bandha lock energy into areas of focus. Without the ujjaiyi, all I can do is grasp at a grosser interpretation. Chins can be pulled in, pelvic floors lifted, for sure – but such movements remain exotic and overly dramatic when divorced from lifeforce. The two, bandha and ujjaiyi, work hand in hand to power energy directionally.
Muscle power is not the only power at my disposal.
Imagine a saxophone, or a bassoon, filled with air and vibrating. Closing the stops changes the pitch, changing the breath alters the tone. Yoga is like that. The body that surrounds the central air canal, that flesh changes tone and pitch when using both breath and locks in a vinyasa flow. It’s not that I can’t do a class without employing bandha, but my asana will play like a conch shell: one pitch, one note. My range is limited. Perhaps I can feed on the energy of others. For the record mantra never was and isn’t now, prayer. Mantra, traditional or pop music, ignites and unites a group’s synergy. Call it background noise, background noise is not pejorative.
The most silent inch on Earth is still filled with the songs of insects and birds.
At my office I hear the low hum of the light fixtures, clicking from keyboard buttons, the second-hand ticking on an analog clock. Until I assign myself a better one my manta might be “I don’t have time for this! I don’t have time for this! Hurry up.” With the right touch Time can be manipulated. If I’m bored my minutes crawl. In the zone? I step outside of time. Repetition, day after day has the effect of making the days go faster. Anticipation makes them go slower. If I want more time? I Hold a difficult pose a little bit longer than I can bear to stretch seconds into hours and minutes into weeks. The force must originate by my own desire.
To be commanded into shape by a drill sergeant does not have the same effect.
Asana and pranayama are analogous to matter and energy. Asana, the “physical” practice is taught as postures, poses. Why the air quotes? Because breath control and bandha are physical too – – but they relate more closely to controlling energy. And asana doesn’t? Don’t heart openers make us happy? Don’t forward folds make us relax? You can see how this gets murky. Asana do effect fascial tissue, synovial fluid, the lymphatic system, sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems- yes, all the body sheath. If I stand limply, concentrating two dimensionally on the teacher/Dvd/youTube video in front of me? You know what I mean. I become insubstantial yoga stuff. So how do I tap into the hydroelectric power plant of real living yoga?
In college I called the game, “Don’t eat until someone feeds you.”
The rules are self-evident. I found myself busy and poor. Days filled with reading and working, with very limited space for introspection. When I was fat, dull and complacent – people rarely asked me to go anywhere. As I grew lean and hungry my preternatural awareness turned on. For the sake of the game I spent time with all sorts of people. Show up on time, appropriately dressed – for this is yoga of kriya, action. Oh Kumari, you say, that’s kinda crazy, cantcha just watch TV ? Go to the movies? Logon to Facebook? What and miss my whole life? Are you sifting sand for jewels? Kissing frogs for princes? Become the iron magnets are attracting.
Simply be stable, curious and willing to interact.
I met real yogis, who may not have called themselves as such, but they were shape-shifters, conjurers, vibrating at a higher frequency. The kind of people dogs hear and mountains speak to. While playing, I realized I can be imaginative, and still unsuccessful. ouch. For example I might imagine if I stretch farther I’ll be advanced. So I hyperextend myself, completely obtuse of my new misalignment. I may end up tearing muscle, creating soreness, believing from such data that yes, I’ve advanced. Actually such fancy is kinda thoughtless. In what sport would I be considered “advanced” for being unaware of what’s going on? In what religion would I considered more spiritual because I had no idea what was going on? In what science would I be considered more advanced because I had no idea what was going on? None of ’em, right? Am I right?
Who’s with me here?
Demystifying the practice improves the experience. Here is a bit of truth. I hang onto old hurts only when I fail to understand what happened. If I avoid a pose, or for that matter a person or place – because I was once hurt – I’m allowing my ignorance to steer. that ain’t right. Now suppose, armed with stronger muscles and greater flexibility I re-attempt. My decision ought to lie in information, exploration! Not subconscious fear and superstition. Teaching students to lean against a wall because building the muscles necessary for a head stand takes longer than a one hour class? That is a shame. Become analog, not digital.
Don’t limit life to things you can learn in an hour, or even an hour in a half.
There is an arc to playing the game. Hunger can be an uncomfortable feeling or a curiosity. Hunger is not a “negative” feeling. Hunger births a litter of related feelings. Sadness, loneliness, vulnerability, or in some, a sense of superiority, or anger, irritability. A habit of hunger rubs the edges off of her. The grandchild of hunger might be glowering resentment, a refined sense of purity or a delicate feeling. My point is, and I do have one, is that if you get into yoga for depth of feelings expect to get messy. Heightened sensitivity breeds drama in some, compassion in others.
On the road to enlightenment there are all manner of roadside attractions.
On Oct 3rd, Saturday from 4-6 I’m hosting a workshop for Yoga Gives Back entitled Thank you Mother India. All the money will go to the organization which funds micro loans to women in India. Also scholarships to intelligent, impoverished, young men and women for college. I’m not giving to need, and neither are you. We’re supporting fellow humans in their endeavors. Let’s be sensitive to their humanity.
Now y’all play nice.