Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Spirit Playing Dress Up

Since my very first yoga class, I’ve be trying to answer the question, “what is this?” Is it a health promoting regimen, is it meditation in motion, is it a physical ritual on my way to spiritual understanding? It could be all of these. And 12 years later, I suppose I’m still asking that same question. Just when I think I’ve got it figured out, when I think I’ve nailed down exactly what yoga is, I experience or discover something new about yoga and I have to expand my definition to include something bigger.
I believe that everybody’s definition of yoga is individual. Here’s my current working definition (warning: this is subject to change at any moment); drum roll please. . . Yoga is the processes of understanding who I am through the method of listening. There it is. Pretty spare. I didn’t even say anything about physical poses, but of course one of the ways I listen is by feeling and becoming aware of my body.
There are many levels on the pathway to understanding who I am. I believe this understanding starts with the grossest levels of awareness and being like how I treat other people and the ways I choose to organize my life. Then, I get to apply that same sort of attention and organization to something practical and close to home: my bod. If I’m paying attention to my body, I might also feel those parts of me which are more subtle, energy—in yoga we call it prana—and find the ways that prana and body marry. I can feel the animating force of the muscles and bones and get to dance with it with clarity and consciousness.
By the way, I’m convinced that the body isn’t merely something to transcend on our way to higher understanding. The body is one of the most practical ways of feeling and experiencing my own divinity. After all, if you’ve ever seen someone who is extremely physically adept, like Michal Jordan or Mikhail Baryshnikov, it looks like you’re witnessing God. And indeed to some degree you are. You’re witnessing someone so developed in that line of understanding that they are reaching a sublime state of being.
Our physical body gives us such immediate and practical information about our being. And, because this is the vehicle, the container, of heart and mind, it makes sense to not only learn from it, but to also keep it healthy so that it can take us where we want to go. Besides, it’s fun. It feels good. What could heaven possibly be but some variation of those two things. Even when I experience love, I can only do that through the nuts and bolts of this body. When my heart feels like it’s going to grow bigger than my chest and burst out of it, or like it’s being stepped on and smooshed black, it’s still within the container of my body that I experience and understand that.
Someone who understood this beautifully is Mary Oliver in her poem about this discovery of who we are through listening and how the body plays a vital role in that discovery. I’m convinced that Mary Oliver is a yogi but who works with a pen rather than a mat. Check it out.

The spirit
likes to dress up like this:
ten fingers,
ten toes,

shoulders, and all the rest
at night
in the black branches,
in the morning

in the blue branches
of the world.
It could float, of course,
but would rather

plumb rough matter.
Airy and shapeless thing,
it needs
the metaphor of the body,

lime and appetite,
the oceanic fluids;
it needs the body's world,

and imagination
and the dark hug of time,
and tangibility,

to be understood,
to be more than pure light
that burns
where no one is --

so it enters us --
in the morning
shines from brute comfort
like a stitch of lightning;

and at night
lights up the deep and wondrous
drownings of the body
like a star.
by Mary Oliver, from Dream Work

Join me in yoga this week and let’s practice understanding ourselves better through the pleasure of wonderful yoga practice.

1 comment:

Angela R. Bryson, RYT 500 said...

I found your forum through a current yoga student in Boise, Idaho. He had great things to say about you, so I explored what you had to say. I personally resonate with the challenge of defining 'what yoga is'...I am often asked this question and my answer is always changing. Thank you for sharing and I look forward to reading more.
Angela R. Bryson, RYT500