“It’s very important to recognize that it’s not other people who are annoying. It’s our mind which reacts to people doing what we don’t want and feeling upset about it. We don’t have to feel upset. That’s up to us.” Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
To better understand the process we are involved with in a yoga practice, let’s take the quote and change the focus.. rather than ‘other people’ let’s consider how we relate to our body. For me at the moment it is my knee. I find my self on the edge of being ‘annoyed’ with it nearly every time I practice. It is absolutely not doing what I want it to and I get upset about it.
When we can practice hatha yoga as a contemplative discipline, we learn to watch the mind and it’s influence on our experience. Initially it is about actions in the arms and legs and trunk – which we essentially relate to as a gross (dull solid) expression of ‘mind’. Our attention is brought to our feelings of either being supported and stable or unsteady and tense. We change our alignment in postures to feel safer and supported and calmer and ultimately clearer about what actions we are performing and the affect they have on us.
Iyengar yoga, as a method of practice is particularly potent in making us pay attention and to evaluate our experiences. It develops deep concentration and the postures also work on the nervous system to set the chemical conditions necessary to sharpen our awareness.
The ability to ‘watch the mind’ we refer to as Becoming Aware of Awareness Itself” and I often tell the story of feeling like I am sitting in the back of an aeroplane watching the drunk monkey drive the plane. This all being a metaphor for learning to watch myself react over and over again to the same old things and realising that I can develop skills that help me do something else. Like Jutsunma Tenzin Palmo says in the quote.. “We don’t have to feel upset. That’s up to us”. In my story the next thing to do once we notice a drunk monkey driving our life, is, from that place of awareness, to start ‘cracking peanuts’- which is another metaphor. Working with asana (postures) and taking time to penetrate into the experience of the physical body, is a way to draw the monkey mind away from the steering wheel of our life. When I commence my practice, it is, to the Monkey Mind, that someone is sitting down the back of the plane cracking peanuts and it wants that! It knows it was born for that job. As that monkey mind comes to the practice, going deeply into the experience of the here and now of embodied consciousness, the Monkey is relieved. It never wanted to drive my life but it did so because no one else seemed to be stepping up to the job.
It is quite a revelation to many of us that we can stop the habits of the mind and thus stop the habits in our actions.
Recently I read a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh
“As soon as there is stopping, there is happiness. There is peace. When we stop like that, it looks as if nothing is happening, but in fact everything is happening. You are deeply established in the present moment, and you touch your cosmic body. You touch eternity. There is no more restlessness, no more seeking.”
This experience of “stopping” is what we encourage students to notice. "Stopping" is initailly experienced as "feeling" or being present to what is actually happenning in the body. We grow spatial awareness and improved coordination - we can track actions and the affects, or the contributions that asana have in our nervous sytem. We differentiate in the here and now of experience whether we feel supported or collapsing. How exactly are we experiencing ourselves?. The relationship between conscious mind and moment is re-established. The habitually reactive mind has 'stopped' and another layer of awareness emerges.
If you are interested deepen your practice of yoga such that you establish a link between the work of the postures and the process of meditation, we have a few places left in an 8 week introductory course commencing May 4. It is a Tuesday evening and classes start at 6 pm and finish at 7.30pm. You can link to more information here.
More class options starting October 24 2023
But to me the question really is, what is the cost of no yoga?
Yoga is the lay persons neuroscience - Yogis have known for centuries that there are layers of mental activity that can be harnessed and directed. When attention becomes concentration and concentration establishes a pause between the rise and fall of thoughts, we arrive into a state known as meditation. The interconnections between the layers of consciousness create the conditions for wisdom.. it arises in the pause, in the interruption of habitual thought.