Monday, July 2, 2012

Taking the Practice Deeper

I attended a yoga class over the weekend where the teacher asked us what it means to us to “take the practice deeper.” As she said, to a lot of people, the answer often revolves around getting into more “advanced” postures. But regular readers of this blog know that asana (postures) are just a part of yoga. They are necessary to the deeper practices, but they are not the only deeper practices.So what does it mean to take the practice deeper? It often means looking deeper inside ourselves. It can mean facing our fears.

So much of our lives are external. There was a very interesting article about busyness in the New York Times over the weekend. We live in a world of busy where we never have to look inside. In fact, taking the time to look inside is seen as an indulgence, not a necessity. The article says that all this busyness is a way for people to feel important. After all, if we never have time for people, they will know how much other people want our time.

But I think it might be more than that. And it has something to do with taking our practice deeper. Staying busy all the time protects us from having to look inside. Most of us have a lot of emotional buildup buried deep within us, and staying busy means we never have to acknowledge it. Even our body reflects how we hide from it. Our muscles tense, our jaw tightens, and sometimes we even get physically ill. These are the issues that often bring people to a yoga mat.

Therefore, a purely asana-focused practice can help us reach into some of these issues. We may notice that the emotional baggage we hold in our hips begins to release when doing hip openers. Some people spontaneously cry or laugh while doing asana. Some people love the endorphins. As we begin to move through the holding patterns in our musculature, we begin to face the rest of our lives as well. 

Going deeper means taking the asana practice and using it to really understand what we are holding, and how we can release it. Taking our practice there is where the real healing begins. Yoga becomes more than a strong core and some breathing exercises. It becomes truly therapeutic.

But it also means entering that space of fear. It means facing the world we hide from ourselves through our busyness. The universe will never throw anything at us we are unable to handle at that time, but it may not always feel that way. Yoga, for all its great healing attributes, makes us vulnerable. Muscles that were tight expand and make us open. With all the traumatic stories and news we hear, from a friend’s divorce, to our clients’ tragedy, to wars raging across the globe, sometimes it is easier to stay closed.

But yoga opens us up. It opens us by asking us to go deeper than those surface pains and tightness in our muscles and our minds. It allows us to turn inward and see what we have been hiding from ourselves and the world. And when we can learn to be with our own inner being, we can learn to be with each other more solidly.

Easy? Absolutely not! Some days it keeps people off the mat entirely. But the healing is at that deep level as well, which is why we also come back to the mat or the cushion. The physical pains that brought us to the mat at the beginning are our reminders that overall it is safe to return to the mat when our practice deepens. It is when we go deeper into our practices that not only can we heal our aches and pains but our sorrows as well. We learn to tune into the strength that is our body and the strength that is our soul.

Maybe going deeper also means “finally” bringing your hands to the floor in a forward fold, but really it is about being with ourselves completely. Rather than blocking out parts of ourselves, we look at them squarely and feel all they have to offer. And at that moment we breathe.

So, perhaps our obsession with busyness is about proving that we have the best business, as suggested by the New York Times article. Or perhaps it is a way to hide. I actually think it is both. Yoga automatically removes us from this busyness, even if only for five minutes. It takes us away from proving to each other we matter. It takes us away from needing to prove we are better. And it certainly takes us away from hiding from ourselves.

Going deeper. What does that mean? Ironically, as my practice has deepened, I cannot get as deep into certain postures on certain days. But I know that where my practice is each day is where it needs to be. At times it is frustrating, but I learn something new from it every single time.

What does going deeper mean for you? Do you use busyness as a distraction? What happens to your mind when you let it settle?


© Rebecca Stahl 2012, all rights reserved. 

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