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The attention to detail in my classes can be new to some people. If you read my earlier post on meditation, Inviting a Meditative State, you’ll read that meditation often starts by focusing on something concrete (such as an object or action). The details of the yoga practice is that something: “gaze over your nose, keep your inhales and exhales of equal length, keep your chin tucked, keep your face relaxed”…etc. The details of the asana and sequence are not only for the physical aspects of the practice, but they are also there to keep you focused, to guide you into meditation. Often the first step in getting comfortable with a Krishnamacharya or Ashtanga practice is understanding the details are there to help you, meditation is the core of the practice.
As you practice the sequences more regularly they will likely become rather deep and quite athletic. People don’t often associate meditation with so much physicality, but keeping the practice challenging is a part of keeping your mind focused on the here and now. As you become more familiar and comfortable with your initial introduction to Krishnamacharya’s and Pattabhi Jois’s sequences, you will naturally begin to practice them in a deeper and more athletic manner. It’s a way to help you let go of the past and future – to help you be in the moment, in meditation. No one suddenly forces a student into demanding or advanced poses, it happens naturally over time, be it months or years.
This type of moving meditation is the same meditation as when we are sitting still, it’s just a different approach. I find it’s beneficial to have both a moving meditative practice and a still one. The video attached to this post is a great introduction to meditation, please take the time to watch it. It will help you in your journey as a yoga practitioner:
A yoga practice is a tool to meditate, but where does one start? Let us first define meditation in the simplest terms: meditation is a deep level of mental focus. For most people, the best way to begin is to pick one subject to focus on, so for the purpose of our discussion let us say that one subject will be our yoga practice.
A yoga practice already has tools in place to aid meditation, tools such as: the quality, rhythm, and synchronization of the breath (pranayama); the direction of the gaze (dristhi) in the position (asana); the precise alignment of the asana; the precise sequence of the positions and their synchronization with the breath (vinyasa). These are good details to start with. They may seem like a lot to keep up with, but that is the point. Yoga is an exercise for the mind.
With meditation, expect to start off with concrete techniques such as these. As your meditation becomes deeper perhaps you might switch to something abstract to focus on in your practice, such as: “letting go,” lightness, ease …etc. If your meditation gets still deeper, you may start to focus only on the sensation of doing the practice – moving away from cognitive thought. At last, if our mind is particularly strong that day, we may be able to experience a level of concentration to where our only focus is that we are doing our practice, with no other thought, not even the physical or emotional sensation of practicing. Perhaps we may humbly consider this progression as our samadhi samprajnata (distinguished contemplation).
Many of us struggle with meditation because we are not told two simple things: meditation is focus, and it generally starts by focusing on something in the concrete world (such as an object, or activity). Do not be deterred, you can do it. When it becomes hard for you to maintain your focus, just go back to the concrete tools of a yoga practice described above: your breath, the direction of your gaze, the alignment of the position, the synchronization of asana to asana and breath to asana. It is alright for it to feel like it’s a lot of mental work, you are doing just fine.
Whether you are new to yoga or not, learn to accept some hardship in order to receive great benefit. Being challenged not only reveals your inner strength, but also many truths about yourself. The truth is not a scary thing, it is either something to be proud of, or an opportunity to improve. A person could live their whole life with the capability of being a great artist, yet never discover their ability because they never picked up a paint brush. Likewise an artist who avoids criticism because of their fear of the truth will never improve until the flaws of their technique are revealed.
A good step to take with a yoga practice is to not ask it to be easy. Instead ask your yoga practice to give you the necessary challenge to discover your strength and to discover truths about yourself. Yoga is a tool to focus and strengthen your mind, to learn to put all your brain power into whatever task is at hand. Such a great benefit requires accepting some hardship. For the greatest rewards from your yoga practice: have patience, allow things to take a long time; practice constantly, it’s alright to start out small, but practice; don’t give up, accept that there will be struggles and that it won’t always be easy.