For several months - since I went on retreat in late November - I’ve been "inquiring within" about what it is I do – vis-à-vis my practice and teaching of Yoga. I'll continue this inquiry all summer and through next Autumn - and maybe forever.
What I’ve learned to aim for - in my practice and teaching is a two-step that repeats and repeats and never grows old. The two steps are Love and Attention.
The first of the two is Love. I know what a worn out word that can be for some – but it is not a worn out energy. It is - for me - a word that points to the unified field- a fabric made of strands of Love and threads of Light - of which we are all part. It points to my own heart which opens into every heart. It is an activation of the prana of the heart center, an awakening of the sacred heart. Before I meditate or practice or teach or even get out of bed I try to remember to fall in Love (without needing an object) …..to soften around my heart – to breathe to the bottom of my heart.
And there's now science to support the mystical perspective of love. Science says that an activated heart center produces Oxytocin – (correlated with happiness and love). Oxytocin is produced in the heart and is both a hormone and a neurotransmitter. (The heart is both an organ and an endocrine gland). Claudia Welch teaches about oxytocin beautifully using the analogy of a sandbox. As a child I am like a sandbox full of sand that is malleable and changeable. As I grow older, acquired conditioning, habits and personality become deeper and denser. It is as if the sand in the box hardens and becomes non-malleable. Until I fall in love. When my heart center is activated by love or devotion or great happiness, oxytocin is generated and there is a corresponding softening, loosening, moistening of the “sand” or my neural-muscular and prana pathways. Change becomes possible.
The next step in the 2-step is attention. What science has to say about this is that change and re-patterning of habits, personality, beliefs, etc., is correlated with a part of the brain (nucleus basilis) that has to do with attention and that is very lit up in early childhood. It gradually browns out at puberty and only lights up brightly again during “acts of god” (emergencies, life threatening situations, childbirth, etc.) and when you pay deep attention (like when you are in the “Zone”).
The 2-step is truly “Yoga doing me”.
1. LOVE…Relax Relax
- Fall in Love a little knowing that Love doesn’t need an object, reason or explanation.
- Rhythmic breath – Breathe into and out from the bottom of my Heart
- Give my heart ease by releasing my weight earthward to the compassionate embrace of Gravity. Relax.
2. ATTENTION …Alert Alert
- Tether my attention – my proprioceptive and sensory awareness - into my body
- Take up occupancy of my kinishphere
- This is not a mind thing to do – like most of us learned to associate with the word “attention”. This is a body thing to do.
I find it helpful to remember that- in Leonard Cohen's words, "the heart below" - my own human heart of flesh - "is teaching to the broken heart above", and that - as Dina Rees says, "My Heart is a Mother – The earth needs mothers."
I also find it helpful to envision my heart center as a blossom moving towards fruit…. and as such it needs - like any plant – a root and a stem to flourish. When prana is uprooted, the blossom of Heart uproots and wilts.
Uprooted prana is epidemic.
To practice Yoga Sadhana - the way I have learned it - is to grow a root that will give my heart ease, gravity, earth, relaxation quietness, slowness….This poem of Tara Mohr’s inspires me tremendously:
The Quiet Power
I walked backwards, against time
and that’s where I caught the moon,
singing at me.
I steeped downwards, into my seat
and that’s where I caught freedom,
waiting for me, like a lilac.
I ended thought, and I ended story.
I stopped designing, and arguing, and
sculpting a happy life.
I didn’t die. I didn’t turn to dust.
Instead I chopped vegetables,
and made a calm lake in me
where the water was clear and sourced and still.
And when the ones I loved came to it,
I had something to give them, and
it offered them a soft road out of pain.
I became beloved.
And I came to know that this was it.
The quiet power.
I could give something mighty, lasting,
that stopped the wheel of chaos,
by tending to the river inside,
keeping the water rich and deep,
keeping a bench for you to visit.
Heart’s Ease is also evoked - for me - when I remember something my teacher Lee Lozowick said: ''When you are under the wings of "the Work" you'll be taken care of".
In other words - - I am not the do-er.
In other other words - 99% of all the magic and grace and miracle and mystery of my life – of Life - is happening completely outside of my understanding or capacity to manipulate or manage.
And / But there IS the 1 % – for which I have a huge responsibility. I am asked to do the simple but not easy task of sustaining attention in my body, of being embodied, of leading a simple sane life.
The resistance to leading a simple sane life – to standing still with attention tethered into body and into “just this” - is HUGE. I think this is a fear of the feminine…a deep distrust.
Yoga sadhana and body-mindful movement cultivates trust and brings me back to Heart and Ma and my 1%. It does this by attuning and aligning my body to the subtle energetic flow of Divine Influence and Blessing Power.
Yoga sadhana and body-mindful movement is a recovery program for recovering distracta-holics – myself and all of us who suffer from attention that is scattered and threadbare. Yoga asana - mindful movement - grows my capacity to remember…to recover my attention, to tether it to "just this"- the magnificent simplicity of embodiment. Then I can I remember how to enter the temple of my senses, how to turn on the temple lights (of proprioception and kinesthetic awareness).
So - the work that I have been given - as I see it - is to be a sort of combo janitor-electrician, who can keep the hallways of the temple clear of garbage and the lights of embodiment lit. This not glamorous work but it is good work. Thanks to all the gifts that have been strewn on my path – I have learned how to wire the pathways (of senses, bio-mechanical alignment, kinesthetic awareness and pranic flow) and how to keep the lights on. I don’t know how to locate grace, make it, grow it, or any of that. I also don't know what is really going on - "out there" - "up there" . It is a great mystery. I used to have more beliefs. Now I just have awe. But still I do know how to enter the kinesphere of my body, do the necessary wiring of awareness, keep the lights on the best I can and stay in place (Mouna)
Regarding staying in place (Mouna),Rick Lewis writes in As It Is:
"Have you ever been lost in one of those huge shopping malls and you are with another person and you get separated and you are both looking for each other? You just go around and around, missing each other because you are both looking. It's like that. The Divine is the one who is looking - not you.
[Yoga] Sadhana is a way to learn to stand in one place – attention in the body - after you get lost….to become rooted in, tethered to, and anchored in being where you are supposed to be when the divine comes to look for you".
OR, I can run all over the place, try out fifty shades of dissociation and distraction, and meanwhile the Sacred visits my embodied flesh and blood home 50 times and I am not in....making it impossible for the Divine to find me.
This waiting - standing still, listening, is very feminine, very devotional.
I received a great teaching on this general subject in a seminar with Robert Svoboda. He was teaching about a related concept known as Visvasa ( below is paraphrased from my notes)
The first condition is VISVASA, an investment of prana viscerally. Especially, the Prana has to be full and circulating in your Lower Burner / Hara / Lower Chakras. The simplest and most powerful way to bring a full and free flow of Prana into your lower burner is to breathe abdominally and relax. Take a few deep breaths and RELAX.
….Engage a quality of breath that flows continuously and seamlessly, like oil being poured in a continuous stream.
Visvasa is resonant with the elements Earth and Water and Muladhara and Svadishtana Chakras respectively. It is also resonant with the Kapha dosha. Kapha dosha comes first, it is the ground and the water which moistens the ground, In the first part of our lives, Kapha is dominant. In the first part of the day (dawn) Kapha is dominant. And so once again we see that a successful practice has to be aligned with Nature if we want success in our effort, if we want the fruit of the practice to grow we must first root the tree and water the soil in which it is rooted.
Finally - here is a wonderful touchstone poem. It helps me remember how to do my 2-step Yoga sadhana.
The Little Duck (Remixed by Moi!)
Now we are ready to look at something pretty special.
It is a duck riding the ocean a hundred feet beyond the surf.
She is cuddled in the swells.
There is a great heaving in the Atlantic,
And she is a part of it.…
She can rest while the Atlantic heaves because she rests in the Atlantic.
Probably she doesn’t know how large the ocean is.
And neither do you.
But what does she do, I ask you?
She sits down in it.
She reposes in the immediate as if it were infinity – which it is.
She has made herself a part of the boundless,
by easing herself into it just where it touches her.
~~~After "The Little Duck" by Donald C. Babcock (1886 – 1986)