“Practicing with total attention within the body is advanced yoga, no matter how easy the posture; practicing with your attention scattered is the practice of a beginner, no matter how difficult the posture. Hatha yoga trains the mind as well as the body, so focus your attention without lapse.”
-David Coulter, The Anatomy Of Hatha Yoga
“We are taught how to move and behave in the external world, but we are never taught how to be still and examine what is within ourselves. At the same time, learning to be still and calm should not be made a ceremony or a part of any religion; it is a universal requirement of the human body.”
-Swami Rama, Meditation And Its Practice
It’s funny–the more advanced postures I learn, the more stamina and core strength I build, the harder it becomes for me to relax into complete stillness, into savasana, the corpse pose, the final posture in every yoga class.
As this training has progressed, I’ve definitely retreated inward. I used to be pretty extroverted, or at least I needed a lot of social interaction in my life to feel fulfilled and stimulated. These days, I am happier when I have the whole day to myself, and when I don’t need to talk to anyone for long stretches of time. I’m learning to trust my solitude and enjoy the company of the person I am when I’m all by myself. And yet, stillness continues to be a challenge.
One of my favorite teachers likes to say, in the middle of holding the class in a difficult posture, “Remember, you can take a rest, this is optional! Everything in yoga is optional. Except breathing. You have to breathe. You could sit here on your mat for the whole 90 minutes and breathe, and you’d be doing yoga!” Actually, I think that would be harder… Yoga means “unity,” and if the body is not providing any movement to unify with the breath, then that means you have to focus all your attention on the breath alone. Which is much more subtle and prone to distraction than a physical posture like downward dog or headstand. When you link the breath to a posture, at least you have several avenues for the mind to travel…when you’re just sitting still, in breathing meditation, the mind gets restless far more quickly than the body gets tired in downward dog, and it’s much harder to bring the mind back into focus than it is to ignore a cramping muscle or a cranky hamstring.
Mindfulness, awareness. Solitude and alive-ness. I’ve also been reading Yehuda Amichai, an Israeli poet, today (Open Closed Open, his last book of poems), and found this relevent–this is from “The Precision Of Pain And The Blurriness Of Joy: The Touch Of Longing Is Everywhere” (the title is shorter in Hebrew!):
Sometimes my soul wants to get out of my body for a little run,
like a dog, and return calmer to the body. But it worries
that it won’t find the way back.