I’ve spent weeks getting technical, workshopy, precise in my own practice and, I suppose, in my teaching. I’ve taken one tiny aspect of a pose and approached it from standing, against a wall, lying down, and upside down. I’ve done it over and over again. I’ve practiced going in, coming out. I’ve studied the anatomy and memorized terms, repercussions, hormonal shifts. This is science, and craft, both.
This morning I found myself practicing without technicalities. I woke early for it being a Saturday, the house still full of sleeping others, and without knowing why I’d woken or thinking much at all I cleared a space on my hardwood floor and I practiced. I practiced twice; after that first, whispery practice I went through my day: errands and people and breakfast and lunch and more errands, more cleaning. Halfway though washing the windows I wanted to practice, again. Both times I stepped into the first pose without much foresight, without a sequence jotted down or memorized. There was no music, no plan, no reasoning.
I remembered, later, being a kid and the irrational, heady urge to simply run. To run far and fast until my legs burned. To swing and swing and swing until the hinges of the swing’s chains seemed welded to my internal gravity and inner ear and rocking brain. Back. And forth. I did this as a teenager, driving. Just driving on and on. I’ve watched others do it. I’ve read about it. Sufi mystics, those whirling dervishes, spin around and around and around until their thoughts surrender and their hearts take over and they find themselves dancing and tangled up and god. Runners talk like this. And jazz musicians.
When you practice chanting, you repeat a word or a phrase over and over again until you chant yourself into silence. When you practice movement, vinyasa, or flow, you move yourself into stillness.
I tend to believe all music, and all efforts at speech and communication, ultimately bend back to silence. And all movement is wrapped up in stillness. It is only noise, distraction, chattering mind and confusion that tell us otherwise. We can stay caught up in the layers of noise forever, I think. Like an argument that goes on and on, a tangled ball of yarn that can’t be undone. We can, and there is not anything particularly wrong or bad about this. There is much to be said, and we should speak. We should think, and reason, and plan, and create.
But we should also revere silence, and listen to it. We can find rest in movement. We should recognize the oxymoron of the awe-some world in which stillness is never really still, infinity is immediate, and words don’t say anything at all.
I can and do often talk about what happens, on an anatomical and philosophical level, of what happens in a pose or a generalized practice. Inversions do this, say. Backbends open the heart and ease the spine; lateral bends tone the obliques and the intercostal and release the secondary muscles of respiration; twists press against our pancreas and thus regulate blood sucrose levels.
But it is an altogether different thing to simply say what it is I feel, when I practice. It isn’t a simple thing at all. It can’t be said, but felt.
The density of muscle and bone, a strange increase in their loudness and articulation, distinction, twitches and burns and deep releasing in places I hadn’t felt at all, before. A gravity, a heaviness, a weight and stillness and thud. But under that heaviness a kind of rippling burn, an electrical wave of flying and thrilling and being energized. A calm that is poised, more poised than feeling tired or spent or asleep. But an awake that feels more firey than cocaine or coffee or fear, simple adrenalin, or any combination of them all. There are lights inside my body, under the skin, and my stomach burns with something I don’t quite know a name for. Joy, perhaps. It lurches and pinches. Excitement. Passion, surely. It is a fire under the ass.
To practice in this way is to be lulled, to let the breath and the moving become a lullaby and the brain become mesmerized and swooned. There is sinking, falling in, surrender.
When I practice this way, I hit a depth that is not always there, that seems elusive. After a practice this way, the edges of things seem different for hours if not days afterwards. Colors are brighter, as though my eyes had been covered with a scrim of sepia and brown, or are milky as a newborns, and suddenly I am given sight again. The edges of pine needles, the fibers of blankets and carpets and denim, the roundness of grapes and the shout of sunshine riot as if springtime and noise had both been reinvented and updated and newly strut in their best shoes.
As if the depth sounded inside were reflected out there, too; all things have a terrible depth and profundity and it is luxurious just to dip your fingers in sudsy water or watch the droplets of water shimmering out of a garden hose.
Things have meaning, after all.
- expect lots of dynamic movement, moving meditation, focus on breath this week.
- practice, at least once, letting go of as much technicality and ‘progress’ as you possibly can, surrendering over and over and over again to moving with your breath. Breathe more deeply. Make your movements more full. Give over to that place that is rhythmic and graceful and oddly, still.
- tratakam is candle watching, fire watching meditation. Odd that such an ephemeral, never still thing should inspire such stillness and reflective states in us…and have done so throughout different eras and cultures. Spend a few minutes staring into a flame and afterwards wonder about stillness and movement; notice how still and calm and steady and heavy the experience truly is, while not being ‘still’ at all.
-vinyasa your way to a dance, or while washing dishes, while walking, while rocking a child to sleep.
- pick a word, any word, and repeat it to yourself fifty times. Or five hundred. Until the word SOUNDS different, becomes nonsense, starts to mean something other than what you thought at first, or simply becomes silence. Maybe because I’m a poet and words have always been magical to me, I remember doing this as a very young child. I’d like to think all kids do it. Maybe they don’t. If you did, remember that.
- Notice how dynamic savasana is.
- Try to keep ujjayi breath steady throughout a practice. Notice, how at the end of practice, the breath itself has built up a momentum; it doesn’t stop the moment you lie down in savasana. It might take a few minutes to actually let that breath pattern go. No particular lesson. Just power. Just awareness. Just a new found respect for how freaking real pranayama is, outside of consciousness and what we say it is.