I recently took part in a week-long intensive yoga training geared towards experienced yoga instructors taught by a legendary teacher in the yoga world. Virtually every participant in the training had previously spent extensive amounts of time studying and teaching yoga and each possessed a very advanced personal practice. Rather than teaching us the intricacies of complex arm balances, deep backbends, or what many would consider to be “advanced” postures, however, our instructor chose to focus the entire week on dissecting the minute subtleties of the most basic yoga poses: Tadasana (Mountain Pose), Urdhva Hastasana (Upward Hands Pose), Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward Facing Dog pose), Virabhadrasana 1 (Warrior 1 Pose), etc.
Moving arduously slowly through the poses that week was not always pleasant, but the unpleasantness of it once again reminded me that an important part of our practice is learning to stay with discomfort long enough to relax into it. Remaining in postures for longer than we want to, gives us the opportunity to witness how we deal with challenge and adversity. Instead of just muscling our way through a difficult pose, holding our breath, silently cursing our teacher, and praying for it to end soon, if we allow these moments of discomfort to serve as a learning lesson, then the struggle of the pose will take on a whole new meaning. Instead of feeling like a sinking ship, struggling to stay afloat, we can learn to tap into our inner strength and, with the wisdom that the discomfort will not last forever, we can steadfastly hold our position. As our perspective shifts, so will our body. We will begin to receive the earth, feeling how it supports us with unwavering steadiness. We can then inquisitively scan our body for signs of unnecessary tension and attempt to make the subtle adjustments within the pose to find a position that better allows our body to open and to release. As our muscles begin to quiver, we can learn to calmly return to our steady breathing. Right in that moment when we want to give up, we can choose instead to stay; in that moment of uncertainty, we can choose to have faith. In this way our practice on the mat can serve as a practice in character building for our lives off the mat.
My most important take-away from this experience was being reminded that the true yoga lies in the details. As our class moved at a laborious pace through sun salutations and basic postures, breaking down every tiny aspect of each pose, it became clear that when these postures are practiced accurately and consistently, they naturally allow for the more elaborate poses to arise of themselves without being forced. Perhaps more importantly, moving in a slow methodical manner can teach us patience and humility.
Just as we do in our daily lives, we tend also in our yoga practice to rush through the warm-up on our way to the “real” destination. Our activities are just the means to an end. We rush through cooking so that we can eat; hurry through house cleaning so that we can enjoy the beauty of the end result; work so that we can have enough money to buy the things we want. We forget that these activities are not just distractions on the way towards real life. Washing the dishes IS life. Working IS life. The reality is that these activities collectively make up the majority of our lives. If we do not change our perspective as to which postures/experiences are worthy of reverence, our practice/lives will quickly slip past us. We need to recognize the beauty of exactly where we are in each moment. To place the body mindfully and specifically in your yoga practice is to have reverence for the divine being within you. To wash the dishes carefully, one by one, is to have reverence for the natural order of the world. There are no menial tasks. The mundane IS the sacred. Every moment, every movement is an opportunity to be alive.
Playlist: Steady Flow
Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes - Thievery Corporation
You Are We Am I - TJ Rehmi
Moonsmith - Cantoma
So Com Voce - Thievery Corporation
Liberation Front - Thievery Corporation
Aja - TJ Rehmi
Transcendence - Thievery Corporation
Lone Rider - TJ Rehmi
Breathe - Alexi Murdoch
The Long Day is Over - Norah Jones
Opening - Wah!