So, Friday morning- I woke up early on my own, (thanks, in part to the acupuncture treatment Kelly gave me before bed) and then did my morning practices and now I am attempting to catch up on some email and correspondences while I drink my chai. Hmmm....
I had a very productive day yesterday- I managed to do some writing and practice asana before teaching at 4:30. We worked on forward bends in class last night and we even managed to get headstand, shoulder stand and savasana in. It was a quiet, more introspective type of class with a theme of focus and commitment to focus. Folks made lots of progress on janu sirsasana as we changed positions for the back leg to release the groins and gain access to greater freedom. Again, for the most part the students in the room were well-practiced and well-schooled in the basic postures so we were free to dive into more subtle refinements.
So- I have been really chewing on this idea that "having to think" is somehow counter to yoga. I just do not get it. I try. I really do. But I just do not see "spacing out" in any way part of the yoga practice. Yoga is about attention and the fundamental precept of yoga is "prana follows attention." And the whole idea in yoga is prana. So- if we are spaced-out, tuned-out, inattentive, etc. we are not in a cooperative, creative or conscious relationship with the prana, with the flow of Life itself.
I am not saying that being spaced-out and going through the motions in asana with a great sound track will not help you feel better. I am not saying that it is un-enjoyable or without value. I am not suggesting that paying attention (and being called to attention) is easy, natural, comfortable or relaxing. I am not suggesting any of that but I do not think all that is the point of the practice. I think the point of the practice is consciousness. And the only way to be conscious is well, to be conscious- meaning attentive, tuned-in, precise, aware, mindful, focused.
And the practice of attention is multi-layered. In asana practice we have the chance to attend to the details of our physical placement and actions within the placement, to our breath, to our mind, our attitude, our emotions, and eventually to the increasingly more subtle levels of who we are. And at every level, our attention carries prana itself with it and really, that is how the yoga works. How yoga ever got identified with spacing-out or checking-out stymies me. It really does. I get it but I think it is a gross misunderstanding. I really do. (My opinion.) As far as I can tell, all yoga has ever been about is harnessing attention, about managing energy and about consciously choosing what we are going to do with our energy, with our vital force, once we gain access to it. Yoga has never been a haphazard, anything-goes, let-it-all-hang-out kind of endeavor. (Ranting now. Yes, I know. I am, in fact, AWARE of myself ranting as I write..lol)
And the real thing I cannot get way from in this whole discussion (Be it a one-sided discussion at this point, mind you-- but it is my blog after all!) is that one of the most immediate and accessible ways to show someone that we care about them is to pay attention to them. Think about it- when we love someone we ask how their day was, we listen as they tell us the details, we listen to what is said as well as what isn't said so that we can really know the person and glimpse their experience and this kind of attention helps us make the most optimal and loving response, whether the response is in words or in actions. Paying attention in asana is the same way. It is about having a loving and respectful relationship with ourselves- about really getting to know who we are- down to the nitty gritty of knowing what our pinky toe is doing and how its action relates to our knees, hips, and heart and so on.
In fact, pulling on this thread a bit more I cannot think of much that won't respond well to attention. Injuries heal when we pay attention to what they are telling us and respond well, our psyche can heal when we really listen to ourselves, our asana will improve when we are attentive to it and so on. I said it in class yesterday but the only thing I think we do not need to pay attention to in asana is the voice of the downward spiral and the litany of "not enough messages" that may come our way. Fine with me (better in fact) if you go ahead and tune those out as they are of little use. But that is another post for another time.
Years ago I asked John Friend about this same issue because I was teaching yoga in a climate where a softer, less-detailed approach permeated the culture and classes and I was worried I was giving Anusara Yoga a bad name. He said, "Christina, don't worry about that. We call that "flow and glow yoga" and we do not do that. You tell those people that you do not care if they have been in a cubicle since 1976, it is Wednesday night , it is your yoga class, so wake up and pay attention!"
So there you go. (He was nice about it when he said it -just so we are clear- please do not add a mean or judgemental inflection to that story. John has always taught us that paying attention is about a Supreme expression of self-honor.)
Enjoy your day!