Ongoing, deeper, practice

sutra-1-14That (Abhaysa) becomes a solid foundation when practiced with devotion, sincerity, and for a long period of time without interruption. 1.14 There are certain things that happen in a yoga practice, if a person hangs with it long enough.  They happen with such precision and such regularity that I want, sometimes, to offer a guarantee that they will happen.  The thing is, though, they are generally not what we expected nor what we first came looking for.  Folks come in for stress reduction, weight loss, relief of back pain.  Or someone suggested it would help with a knee problem, a shoulder injury, a difficult period in life.  When people come in, these are the things they're going to ask about.

I can't, honestly, say that yoga will fix any particular problem.  I can't promise that it will heal our traumas or relieve our anxiety.  I can't promise it'll fix bum knees.  I can't promise that because, a) that depends so much on how the person goes about practicing and what they practice and b) we actually have very little idea of how yoga works with things like healing, pain, and emotions.  To be fair, this is because no one, science or religion included, understand how healing, pain, or emotional life really work.

So I say that.  I say I don't know if yoga will fix your ........  But I can say it will improve your life.

I want to say, I can promise.  I guarantee.

If you practice for a very long time, consistently, with some reverence and willingness, and with sincerity.

If a person does, inevitably we gain a self-clarity.  We see, ourselves.  Both the bullshit and the potential.  The sastras talk about this as a quieting of the distractions, so that who we really are becomes apparent.  Or, a journey to the self by seeing through the self.

Secondly, a person gets a kind of unshakeable, unflappable, honest self esteem.  This isn't the kind of self-esteem wrought by affirmations, accomplishment, or privilege.  It's a self esteem that can fully handle feeling remorse, without falling apart.  And, can fully accept opportunity, without being oppressed by fear.  It's a self esteem that comes from a slow process of coming to understand we can trust ourselves.  This is no small thing.  I think the vast majority of humanity doubts, this.  It's important that we trust ourselves to survive.  Trust ourselves to act humanely.  Trust ourselves to do well.  I heard a woman in a check out line this morning, getting the work done before dropping the kids at school and going to the job before the second job, say 'you know, like women do'.  This is badassery.  But it's not quite what I mean.  I mean a capacity to do such things, but not be slowly ground down by them.  To actually feel enlivened by them, and better over time.  The kind of self-esteem I see come up recognizes that we are better today, than yesterday, but still has some hope and faith that tomorrow we can be better, still.  Without that, we get lost in yesterday's accomplishments or a sense of loss.  Or, we suffer grave doubt.  Doubt is smothering.

Thirdly, I watch a kind of sacred knowledge being born.  The body, itself, becomes sacred.  We begin to regard the body, to listen to it's whisperings, to be lost in wonder at it.  It loses it's terrible warzone, aspect, and becomes instead a sanctuary.  This is important.  This is feminism.  This is also, humane.  We cannot come to this relationship with our bodies without feeling, deeply, understanding, that this is true of all the other bodies in the world.  There is something precious to humanity.

With a devoted practice, a person also develops resilience.  The world is hard.  Aging is, hard.  We practice as a means of mitigating and understanding what has happened in our lives.  But, if we practice long enough, resilience becomes something more.  A kind of reservoir that runs deep.  A kind of source that doesn't run out.  Practice itself is filling this well.  And we'll need it, sooner or later.  We'll need a source of inner dignity, because the world has a way of withdrawing the dignity it once gave, dismissing bodies as they age for younger versions, forgetting you.   Further, this resilience is the most valuable thing we could offer.  It will, in the long run, be more important than money, or accolades, or social rank.  It will be called on.  It will be called on precisely when money won't solve the problem, or social rank, or mere words.

Eventually, through the process of having a devoted practice, we move through handed down wisdom, then cognitive wisdom, to finally having insight or embodied or experienced wisdom of our own.  Various strands of the tradition call this the perfection of practice, the perfect wisdom, the most true source of clarity.  But the only route to it is time, commitment, experience with a lineage handed down and some practice time with a mentor and guide.

I promise these things happen.  They are inevitable.  Practice gone deep enough changes our behavior, and ultimately changes the direction of our lives, changes who we are.  This change is mysterious and stunning.  And, inevitable.

If: we practice for a very long time, consistently, with devotion.

This raises questions, though.  Once people understand it.  The question of how to keep practicing.  How to find a guide.  What exactly to practice rather than the sporadic things taught in drop in classes, or the one you scroll through on the online sites, or the DVD you happened to buy.  Where is any of that, going, over time?

A person's practice develops once they begin to work with how the body works, rather than looking to perfect it, master a pose, work out or do gymnastics.  There's nothing wrong with any of those things: they can all be done.  And they can even be done in a smart way.  But if a person makes the shift from wanting those things to wanting a deeper practice, they inevitably begin a bigger curiosity about asana, the interface of psychology and physiology, the questions raised by flesh and time.

And, they eventually begin to work with breath, to understand that it is a doorway to a different experience of body, and psychology.

And, they begin to work in a way that is developmental.  That builds depth over time.  That goes into themes.  That allows for personal experience to deepen.

I've been playing with many of these ideas for years, asking my teachers about them, wondering how this path works in modern day america, in our current conditions, with what we have.  I'm enjoying playing with this in the weekly videos.  A way to practice, developmentally, rather than sporadically.  A practice that begins to tap breath, mantra, physiology, bhavana.  A practice that has a purpose and dedication to it.  A way to weave time, experience, soft tissue and structural understanding with the subtle body and mind-body aspects of dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.

This month, we're going to the mountain of the spine, all sorts of spinal release, and a bit of bandha.  Watch as the tactile 'getting it', grows.