“Yoga practice is like life. Each circumstance in which we find ourselves is like a pose. Some poses are hard to hold, others are pleasant. It is how we hold the pose that determines whether or not we will suffer or grow, and whether or not we will listen to the drama of the ego or the wisdom of the spirit.” Darren Main
In our asana practice, just as in life, we are guided through a sequence of poses that range from familiar and “easy” to novel and “difficult” or even sometimes “impossible” (at least in the moment). It may not seem obvious at first, but everywhere along this spectrum we encounter both challenge and possibility.
In an “easy” pose like bharmanasana (table pose), we risk being too casual, of dropping our experience down to the level of routine. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said “routine is resistance to wonder.” It denies our connection to bliss and the Divine, and instead fetters us to suffering. Here we are on hands and knees. When can we move, to do something? Hands anywhere, anyway, knees assymetrically arranged, feet forgotten somewhere back behind us, our gaze and mind shifting forward or wandering elsewhere to something shinier and seemingly more significant. Our body squirms and fidgets independent of the rhythm of breath. Rolf Gates often reminds us that the pose is just what we are doing, Yoga is a particular way of being in the pose. How can we use a simple pose like this to express Yoga? Each pose can be approached in three parts – our breath, our gaze or drishti, and of course the physical form. The physical form begins in our foundation – wherever our body meets and draws energy from the earth. In bharmanasana we need to establish and stay connected to a slow, deep and steady breath; to set our gaze down and forward; and be mindful as we carefully organize hands, knees and feet and then spine. If we do all these things skillfully, attentive to whatever arises with a gentle inward smile, we experience a union with all that is sacred and miraculous in the present moment.
At the other end of the spectrum, we may be led towards an asana or through a transition that is beyond our current ability, for many possible reasons. Sometimes we grimace or resist, give it a chagrined effort, or even launch ourselves heedlessly with excessive effort and insufficient skill. Maybe we look around, compare ourselves to others and feel separated from a universe conspiring against us. We are self-critical regarding our failure or outwardly critical of our circumstances. We long to get away from this moment (aversion, dvesa) to another moment (craving, raga) that will be better. However, if instead we are immersed in our breath practice, set our gaze until our face can be soft, our heart tranquil, and then start working the physical form from the foundation – what a different experience! We set our body on the earth carefully and work from there physically and energetically until we find a balanced expression of the asana.
Whether or not we contort ourselves or levitate, our pose is perfect for NOW. The pose might be bharmanasana (table) or bakasana (crane). The pose might be standing in line at the grocery store or being with a loved one in the midst of trauma. Yoga is how we want to be, regardless of what we do. We let go of the drama of the ego, and bask in the wisdom of the spirit. In this way we connect to what is sacred, recognize the omnipresent miracle and fill ourselves with wonder!