Wednesday, 03 May 2023

Yoga retreats are an inner journey. A journey of surrender into our true Selves. Many of the students who study and practice with me work hard at being peaceful, happy, content and yet their experience is not that.  When you give yourself a retreat experience you discover how 'trying hard', gets in the way of peace/balance/harmony. 

In this blog I explore what happens when we practice paying attention; when we practice being present - rather than when we practice YOGA.  Practice is a process of  removing the obstacles to happiness - obstacles laid down by our socialisation that infest our thinking and hence our approach to life.

I hope the read challenges and inspires you.

What has washed up on the shore of your life?

The analogy of the ocean is ever present to us when on retreat at Woodgate, where we have our purpose built studio.  The beach there is vast and beautiful. Sometimes wild though often full, deep, crystal like and embracing.

As we walk on the beach and see what has washed up from the tide the night before, so too during retreat we learn to observe, to gaze upon our life, and start to see what has washed up.  We learn to ask, ‘what is in the ocean of me, that washes this experience onto the shore of my day, my life?’ 

Throughout retreat we engage with the practice experiences as 'evidence' - as reflections of what is going on inside of us.   We develop focus and clarity of action to halt the habitual reactive mind and behaviors. Practice starts to siphon off the debris; the garbage that has been tossed into the ocean of life.  We get real, by being present to what we see now: this moment.  We feel the arising of courage - the courage to be honest. 

The retreats provide an opportunity to become accountable about what we are allowing to get downloaded through our thoughts and memories into the world. We practice to grow compassionate understanding about how we become the carrier for messages and actions - messages and actions that when we look into them, make us hang our head in shame and drop our heart in helplessness.  In humility we surrender to the practice and ask.. how did this come to be in me?

When we pratice daily and deeply in the retreat environment, we get so see into our own nature: how we are in relationship with ourselves - who we think and feel we are and who we recognise oursleves to be.  We stand upon the shore of our own existence, we start to see what has washed up onto the shore of our lives.

The ocean - our heart - has a way of showing us what goes on in her depths.. I remember a woman named Amy who talked about her work as a geologist.  She told stories about what she found on beaches after a massive tsunami,  in countries thousands of miles away from where the tsunami hit.  Amy collected rocks off the beach. Rocks that gave evidence of forces deep under the surface of the ocean. Forces that told a story that only her, and a few other colleagues, could understand; stories about the arising devastation from the collision of forces -  devastation that some survived and that many did not.  A retreat helps the heart survive: Love to survive.

Posture ‘adjustments’ in an Iyengar yoga practice, are actually conversational clarifications.. the elements of heaviness, compression or spaciousness; of flow, or stagnation, are in conversation.  Each asana is a 'situation' in which conversation must be had to harmonize the forces within the experience.   We learn by feeling; being challenged to let go; to hold when we want to drop; to surrender when we want to grasp; to experience support and space and importantly,  to watch the choices we make, the actions we take, and the results. Depending on how much experience we have, the process within an asana may be that of 'learning' - how to be stable, and what is to be anchored so that we can extend effectively; or if we are more experienced we move into 'studying mode, where we refine our relationship with the subtle forces of nature.. our embodiment. If we are very skilled in a particular asana we are in 'practice mode', where the journey is one of surrender and effortless effort. 

Cultivate the disposition of ‘learner’

In life we don’t know the answers to why we are here… why all these things happen to us and yet for the most part, we behave as if there is nothing to learn – all good.  I am me, that is you.. and we battle.. what is right, what is wrong, who is better, who is worse.  The battle ground becomes the norm, the expected. Someone is always the winner and someone always the loser.  In fact, our lives are too busy for us even to contemplate something beyond getting through each day.  And when we do explore some deeper question we encounter internal dissonace of such degree that the discomfort, and lack of personal skills of sitting with this discomfort, makes us run screaming from the challenge of approaching our true Self.

In our yoga journey we begin to recognise the habits of how we go about life and start to pay attention to different aspects of our experience. We learn new ways of looking at ourselves. 

When a teacher asks, and even demonstates how to find the linking actions to stabilise the pelvis - or a myriad of other instructions about how to adjust the body - and we can't ... and we meet this experience regularly in the safe and seemingly simple context of the yoga mat,  it starts to dawn on us, that if we can't really be with the experience of our own bodies, that perhaps it is okay to accept that we do not know the answers to the big questions of life.  It becomes more and more important to us to put down the identity of 'knower" and to embrace being a learner.. learning how to live life in the simplicity of each moment; as a response to each situation, rather than a reaction to our fears, memories and expectations.

Being spiritual in a world that has sexualised the body

Arising out of the industrial revolution and through the era of scientific ‘enlightenment’, which has been accompanied by the ‘superior position’ that demands the “abandonment of superstition and mystery”, comes our generation.  A generation that has beeen manipulated by our natural curiosity in ‘spirituality’. Manipulated through evocative marketing - the clever use of fear, and relentless brainwashing that uses our instinctive interest in the interconnectedness of everything, to convince us that the closest thing to God-ness, is the sexualization of the body.  Be this in the gyms, on the gladiators’ football fields, in the reality TV shows, or on a yoga mat. 

We are captivated and lured into this mess because there is a deep underpinning of truth in it..  The embodiment really is an instrument though which we can arrive into an understanding of the interconnectedness of all things.  By entering into a conscious and intimate relationship with our body; we study the manifest energy of the universe.. when the particle nature of body, the earth, water, fire, air, space elements are re-cognized in this way (as opposed to the sexualized version of body)– they are felt/known, as an interconnected field and experienced as our link to universal wisdom.

And now a new wave of scientific discovery - quantum physics has proven that our expectations affect the outcomes of an experiment.  What we pay attention to - what we focus upon - structures where our thinking goes.  Our paying attention does not lead us to new discoveries, but leads us to a place where we confirm our assumptions. Our thoughts affect what washes up on the shore line of our life.  The deepest thought waves, the strongest currents within our emotional body.. we have to learn to see them. To watch them and quieten them.

Live life in the mode of ‘learner’ - practice to quieten the internal dissonance

Yoga is a State of Being, what is there to practice? 
We practice to remove the obstacles to the experience of Yoga.. Yog is inherent, it is not earned.

The removal of these obstacles, to our experience of Yog, is where effort must be directed.  Without understanding the intent of practice, efforts, most likely, will function as entrapment.  We unwittingly reinforce the very structures that we seek liberation from.  This is why in classical spiritual teachings, like in the Bhagavad Gita, it is taught, “do not be attached to the fruits of your actions”, but rather act in moment with presence; from an internal locus of control.  An authority based on resonant clarity of NOW. Be fully engaged and address, respond, to what each moment, each situation requires. 

Polly Realf
Senior teacher IYA, IYTA, YA
Director Hervey Bay School of Yoga

Are you interested to think and feel differently about what gets washed on to the shore of your life.. what it is that you have to deal with from day to day, year to year? Join me in 35 hours of yoga.. 7 days of retreat, with all meals included 19 to 25 July 2021 for $950. 

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