Today was my last core class of my yoga teacher training program – and (quite appropriately) the topic was the Yoga Sutras, Part 2.
I had taken the Yoga Sutras Part 1 waaaaaaaayyyyyy back in January. My training cohort was then supposed to have Part 2 the following week; but because of a wicked snow storm, that session was canceled. The next time this topic was offered was in March, but I couldn’t make that date because I had a conflict with my yoga mentor session; so today was the first chance I had to make up this class.
Tonight we spent the first hour of class discussing yogic philosophy of the mind. Basically, yoga believes that we humans are inherently good, pure beings; but that from the moment we are each individually born (or, perhaps more accurately, from the moment that our former body died and our soul was re-released into the universe and found the body that we now occupy) we have experiences that begin to cover-up our inner, essential goodness. We experience cold, or hunger, or fatigue – and we react. We get upset, we cry, we scream – and it’s our reactions to those events that get recorded in our memory (samskaras), and that cause us to begin to form habits (vasanas). Act out the habits enough, and eventually they become what we think of as our “personality”. And it’s all of these traits, the habits, and the memories that keep us from seeing/experiencing/being our inner goodness.
So, we have this problem: Our goodness is being covered up by yucky crap. The natural question is, “Well, then, how do we get rid of the yucky crap so that the goodness can be revealed?” The answer: Yoga. :)
Specifically, the 8-limbed path of ashtanga yoga.
Even more specifically: living an ethical life (i.e., yamas and niyamas), inhabiting a comfortable body (asana), regulating our breathing (pranayama), and meditating (pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi). Ethics, physicality, and breath all support ‘successful’ meditation; and through meditation, the junk is processed/removed from our body/mind/spirit/soul – and what remains is our essential, inherent goodness.
To use an analogy: Think of removing algae from a pond. Pulling strand after strand of algae from a body of water takes a LOT of time and effort, but if you keep at it, slowly the algae will begin to thin out, to lessen. You’ll see less green in the water, and more blue. If you keep going, at some point in time the blue water will be more dominant than the green algae. If you keep going even more, one day every last strand of algae will be gone, and the only thing that will remain is the beautiful, clear blue water. What an amazing pond that would be to swim in!
But most of us don’t want to spend the time, energy, or effort to pull out all the algae; so we just push enough of it out of our way to take a swim. And in doing this “shortcut”, we can swim; but we also get some algae stuck on our toes, or we accidentally stick our hand in a big clump of algae as we try to do a breaststroke, or we might find some algae stuck to our legs as we try to leave the pond….but whatever. Yeah, our swim was less enjoyable because of the algae, but we were willing to accept that, to compromise, because we just didn’t want to try and remove all of the algae.
However. I don’t like algae. In fact, I might even have a mild allergy to it. So while some people are okay splashing amid the green goop, if I spend too much time in it I won’t only be bothered by it, but maybe I start to break out in hives. And if I ignore the rash and stay in the pond, maybe the reaction becomes even more severe, and I begin to have some difficulty breathing. And if I still don’t take some action, maybe I start to experience pain in my chest, numbness in my fingers…maybe I start to die. And at that point, I really *need* to end my exposure to the algae – or else I’m screwed.
Unfortunately, I can’t get out of the pond. (Not yet, anyway.) So the only thing left to do? Get rid of the algae.
Happily, tonight’s teacher spent the second hour of class teaching us algae-removal methods: i.e., meditation.
I have been meditating daily for nearly 2 years now, but I learned a lot in those 60 minutes. The instructor began this segment of the class by showing us three different seated meditation postures. I have always struggled with sitting cross-legged for meditation – my feet fall asleep after only 5-10 minutes. So when I meditate, I sit on a bench. However, I tried the postures the teacher showed us – and one of them was terrific! I was able to sit relatively comfortably for a good 15 minutes, and I felt very stable and solid, yet also at ease with a nice long, relaxed spine – it was great!
The instructor then told us a “trick” we could do to help us establish and maintain circular breathing: basically, to give the body permission to gently relax just before the change-over from inhale to exhale, and from exhale to inhale; and that one rather ‘small’ adjustment had a very significant impact for me. Again, terrific! After a mere 10 minutes of instruction (and then just 2-3 minutes of experimentation), I found myself in a lovely, deep meditative state. (Like, in a state of meditation I usually don’t ‘achieve’ until a good 20-minutes into my own personal practice.) It was phenomenal.
I really appreciated tonight’s class session; and not only for the very helpful meditation instruction and guidance, but also for the meaningful philosophical discussion and teaching that was shared, too. I have missed spending time with others pursuing a spiritual path; and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that tonight, I realized I had kind of ‘drifted away’ from the genuine inner peace and authentic compassion that was more dominant and readily-accessible in my heart, and more easily shared with others, than I had experienced only a few weeks ago. Hmm….. How can I maintain those qualities in my life, as my intensive year of training ends? How can I continue to have experiences of connecting deeply with myself, of experiencing delightful spiritual growth, of revealing the person my soul so deeply wants me to be?
I don’t have any answers. (I am very willing to hear suggestions.) But I do know I need to – have to – keep removing the algae. I just hope I can pull it out faster than it grows. I’d love to see my pond be clean, clear, radiant, beautiful.