Training the Drooling Yoga Dog
What's more annoying than an untrained dog? Try an untrained mind.
I’ve been to plenty of yoga classes where the teacher wants me to focus on one thing: breath. Ha! My mind is like a big, drooling, untrained pitbull. In order to get my mind to stop chewing on the fence, furniture, shoes, and yes, underwear – don’t judge me - I need more than one chew toy. Or I’ll get easily distracted. And go back to chewing on everything I’m not supposed to chew on. These days I’ve adopted two new chew toys. Yum.
Look! Over There!
The really cool Sanskrit word for “gaze”, “point of view” or “mind’s eye” is dṛṣṭi (pronounced “DRISH-tee”). Often when I’m in a yoga class, especially in balance poses, I’ll hear the teacher instruct the class to stare at a spot on the floor “six feet in front of you”.
Well, that’s nice, but not nice if the spot is on someone else’s yoga mat. And the mat owner isn’t just standing in my freaking dṛṣṭi, but he’s wiggling all over the place trying to maintain king dancer. Or I’m trying to stare at the lotus flower stitched on the ass of the pants of the girl in front of me. And now I feel kinda pervy. Dṛṣṭi out the window.
In the aṣṭāṅga yoga system each posture has its very own dṛṣṭi assigned to it. Even in the sun salutations. They’re all kinda cool and each one has helped me get deeper into the posture. For example, when I used to practice standing forward bend I’d sometimes look at the floor. Sometimes at my knees. Sometimes at the cool, beaded hair-tie of the girl behind me. In aṣṭāṅga yoga the dṛṣṭi assigned to standing forward bend is gaze down the bridge of my nose. Holy Indian cow! The next thing I know I’m back in-tune with my other new, very cool point of focus.
Lock It Up!
Another Sanskrit word that’s fun-to-say-at-cocktail-parties is bandha, which means “bond”, “bondage”, or “lock”. In the aṣṭāṅga yoga system there are three locks that are given the most attention and only one of the bandhas has a simple english translation: jālaṅdhara bandha meaning chin or throat lock. I take my chin and tuck it really close to my throat and elongate the back of my neck. This bandha is only activated during certain postures but affords excellent focus. For me, jālaṅdhara bandha really quiets my mind. Almost like emptying the contents of my brain by simply tipping my head forward. Amazing.
I try to focus on the other two bandhas during my entire physical yoga practice, along with each assigned dṛṣṭi. Uḍḍiyāna bandha - the “upward lifting” lock - is located approximately two inches below the navel and is engaged by drawing that space closer to the spine, or closing the distance between the mid front and mid back body with a slightly upward lifting tension of the muscles. Mūla bandha – the “root” lock – is located at your “taint” - you know, ‘taint yer genitals and ‘taint yer anus - the space between. Technically known as your perineum. Mothers, think “Kegel”. Everyone else think “I gotta go, but there’s no toitey anywhere close”.
Both bandhas act in unison and - according to ole’ David Swenson’s book - I’m supposed to engage both of these at all times! Zoinks! Well, that’s what my yoga practice is for, eh? Remember I mentioned the nose dṛṣṭi in standing forward bend? Well, focusing down the bridge of my nose in this pose reminds me to engage my bandhas! Sweet!
Sit, Dog-Mind. Stay. Good Mind.
Not that breath isn’t important, and the postures aren’t awesome, but I’ve been practicing yoga for years and I can yoga-breathe with my eyes, I mean my mind, completely shut. And postures? Half the time I’m on āsana-autopilot.
So, now that drooling, disgusting, needy, teething, pain in the āsana pitbull mind of mine has four chew toys – breath, dṛṣṭi, and two bandhas - in addition to the postures themselves! And the transitions from one posture to another! Plenty of mental chew toys! And they all work! Because each helps me pay attention to the other. Yay!