Monday, November 17, 2014

Dynamism is… mindfulness?

Mindfulness…. Ok, I don’t know about you but for me that is a heavy word. As yogis, and especially as ashtangis, we hear that word tossed around quite a bit.

We should be mindful in our asana practice.
We should bring mindfulness to our lives off the mat.
We should be mindful when we do our pranayama, to purify our minds. 

What the heck does all that mean? It's a pretty abstract concept and I don't do abstract. I want logic and order! So, after several weekends in a row with my teacher, David Garrigues, various words are rattling around in my head. David talks quite often talks about mindfulness in terms of the yoga sutras and vivekakhyāti or unceasing discrimination. Vivekakhyāti? Is that mindfulness? If so, it is right there in the yoga sutras, sutra 2.28, staring me right in the face! 

I decide to start by looking up various definitions of mindfulness and see if they applied to my practice. Here is one from the Oxford English Dictionary:
1. the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
2. a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Whoa! That sounds complicated. But I guess it makes some sense on a theoretical level: accepting one’s feelings and bodily sensations while doing asana practice. Hmm… but what if those feelings are unclear or uncomfortable, as they many times are? 

So, I moved on to find other definitions. I rather like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Buddhist-influenced definition of mindfulness: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” This makes more sense in terms of yoga to me. But, in what way should we “pay attention,” especially during our asana practice? 

Still not logical and concrete enough for me. I felt like I was moving down a rabbit hole and the objects around me were getting larger while I got smaller. 

Then my meditation teacher, John Churchill, reminded me of a very important fact – that in our practice on the mat or on the cushion we must FIRST savor and enjoy. Yes! Simple, concrete and doable! 

Savor and enjoy the breath, savor and enjoy sensations that come up during asana. If that’s all I have to do, then I’m in!

John called this being “rapturously engaged” in the present moment. But he went on to say that without first savoring and enjoying, one becomes “subtly aggressive.” STOP! What the heck?? Does this mean that if I am not being mindful by enjoying the breath or the asana, I will become violent towards it? 

Crap! I will be the first to admit that the practice is not always enjoyable in the moment. But it doesn’t necessarily mean violence – it is more subtle (ha-ha) than violence. Being subtly aggressive means that you manifest ill will toward the object (the breath or the asana). And this is where fear and injury happen. Ill will in our yoga practice manifests in two ways:
  1. By either trying to get somewhere else, rather than where you are: like when you are thinking about how uncomfortable this asana is and how you would rather dodge it and move on; or when external retention during pranayama drudges up fear and anxiety.
  2. By presenting itself in such a way that there is no relationship with the object. Think of this like someone is staring at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable. So basically, you are just staring at yourself in your practice without connecting in a deeper, more meaningful way.
Holy Shit! So, I am being subtly aggressive with myself? Yikes, I really am! It’s the artful dodger popping up everywhere in my practice! 

So how do I change this response? Now I am not a psychologist or a writer, but John suggested that I look at my time on the mat from three classic perspectives: the first person (I, who is practicing), the second person (You, a true relationship of love and compassion) and the third person (IT, the practice). Most of us, myself included, start practicing yoga in the third person. We do IT (or IT does us!) and that leads to a subtly aggressive response.

So... It's all about the perspective with my practice! YOU need to create an integral relationship between yoga and YOURself. OMG, this what David has been trying to tell me! I need to “savor and enjoy” or practice mindfulness or vivekakhyāti. David is constantly reminding us that our yoga practice is meant to teach us to move closer – to move from the gross to the subtle – to use that vivekakhyāti or discerning knowledge that is complete in every sense. Our yoga practice, whether it be asana, meditation, or pranayama (or a true combination of all of the above), is really in the mind and we must bring awareness and remain in it continuously. 

Ugh! How do I remain aware continuously? That sounds impossible!

THIS is the true “light bulb” moment: for me David talks a lot about dynamism – and I think I finally understand what he means. It doesn’t mean pushing forward. Rather, it is really about being HERE – being more attentive and cultivating a true second person perspective of love and compassion with myself. 

Dynamism is about being HERE!

Dynamism is mindfulness. Dynamism is discernment. Dynamism is savoring and enjoying the moment. Dynamism is the instrument that makes this subject, so big and hard to grasp, real and achievable. Dynamism is the potion that says, “Drink this” to get out of the rabbit hole. Now, to just put it into practice!