Last night I went to see one of my students plays at the Riverside Studios and got talking to one of the ushers. He asked what brought me here, to which I responded that I taught the director Yoga. He then told me he’d tried an Iyengar yoga class once and though it was great he thought it was “really hard!” He couldn’t even touch his toes and suspected his marathon running had something to do with it. I asked him to show me the forward bend where he couldn’t touch his toes at which point he straightened his legs and tried to touch his toes. He was right! he couldn’t touch his toes so I suggested “Now bend your knees a little.” He looked at me a little confused, but then did as I asked and ‘cor blimey guv’nor’, he touched his toes. I then asked him to increase the pressure of his feet into the floor, at which point his hips started reaching upwards which began extending his legs whilst his finger tips stayed on the floor. He began shaking all over then lifted his head and looked at me, and said ” oh…wow…I see!”
This is not a new thing but something I come across with nearly every newbie but it got me thinking about it in relation to the blocks we put up within ourselves. A good example is the block we place on ourselves that can stop us meditating, which is just another practice other than a physicality of Hatha yoga, that we can sometimes at first feel so inadequate, confused, unable or unconfident about. The request to bend ones knees was an obvious yet overlooked area that meant two ends of one body would only be connected within a context of difficulty and stress. Meaning that the experience of a forward bend would be one limited to the feeling of an isolated hamstring stretch. The connection was there, but it was stuck within its own limitations. The usher was aware his hamstrings were tight but did not have the awareness that would have shown him how to let let go of the block between himself and the floor. In not stiffening (locking the legs) the forward bend could invite feeling into ones entire being or body. Although he was still aware of the tightness in his hamstrings, he was able to feel above and below now he’d bent his knees and experience a deeper level of his own interconnectivity. When we come into conscious relationship or “natural wakefulness” it’s like we take a step back and look at what’s creating the difficulty, or pay attention to the tone of voice we’re using in a conversation, not just the words, but eventually the energy behind the words. In relation to practicing meditation we observe our state of mind, sitting, eating, talking and sense the ways in which we operate in relation to ourselves and others. The practice of watching and observing breaks down the reactionary aspects within us, giving us space to look at the reactions and sense whether their hindering us/creating a disconnect with our minds and hearts/another persons or with our own bodies. Our ability to pay attention is the practice of meditation, and therefore we can be aware at any given time in any context. What makes me giggle is our minds dislike of anything we perceive as difficult, or our response to difficult as to not don’t bother trying. This all stems from our attachment to the judgement of difficulty or lack of confidence in our abilities or avoidance of looking at our internal state.
I’d like to use the analogy of learning to walk. We could say learning to walk is difficult, yet we try and suceed nonethless and it births us into a bigger world in which we can travel, independently, with freedom and with the self assurance gained from mastering co-ordinated and connected movements. For those in adult stages of life whom have had to learn to walk again, the journey is much harder. The mind is now impatient as opposed to the curious and playful mind of a child exploring how its limbs work. We could say the main hinderance is a blockage in regards to the practice of meditation once again. What’s so fantastic however is this is exactly that which we are trying to address in the practice! I’ve recently been teaching dance but now from a yogic perspective as opposed to previously, a purely dance one. I now teach connection, placing importance on co-ordination between mind, body, emotion and music. Previously I thought the choreography was the most important thing. It is instead the expression of all the things coming together harmoniously. If it were simply doing the steps, the choreography would be lifeless, like the speaking a song, and well…there’d be no magic, no grace or euphoria or transcendence inside or from the performance of the dance itself.
The things that get in the way of our ideas about meditation practice are the very fruits which can feed our entry into the practice. Meditation or “natural wakefulness” can simply show us where we’re putting up blocks that make our lives, relationship or bodies, disconnected, complicated or where we maybe limiting ourselves from us from moving forward, evolving or flowing with life.
For example, one student said to me:
” I can’t sit still in meditation practice!”
At which I replied: “Then just watch that part of you that wants to fidget and see what happens”
Another student said :
” My mind is buzzing, thoughts racing around”
To this I replied:
“Then try watching the race”
Sometimes meditation can seem so obscure or out of our range of understanding that we feel inadequate or dismiss it because we feel uncomfortable or uncertain about it.
At this point I’d recommed this incredible video of Pema Chodren talking about what meditation is not and natural wakefulness. A demystification, highly entertaining, truthful and insightful. It’s great at dissolving the blocks we put up, or excuses we make and may just bring us into a playful exploration with a practice that can offer the same freedom we find from the being able to walk, or to sing, or be able to move into places beyond our previous realm of experience or understanding. In short, it may just take you to places you never knew existed!