Yoga: Making Sense of the Senses
Yoga constantly presents me with new lessons.
Practically every morning for over 12 years I unroll my yoga mat and do sun salutations. Stand at the front of my mat and exhale. Inhale arms overhead. Exhale forward bend.
Striking a Pose
Here’s where I’ve varied it over the years: On my next inhale Śivananda has me step back with my right foot. Vinyāsa and aṣṭāṅga have me look forward. Sometimes the very next exhale means downward dog. Sometimes there’s a cobra on an inhale. Sometimes an upward-facing dog. Sometimes there are some warriors in there. Sometimes not.
Everyone eventually has me back at the front of my mat and everyone wants me to lie down and play dead at the end. There’s no good or bad. No right or wrong in the moral sense. But over the years I figure out the things that work for me and the things that don’t.
What Doesn’t Work and What Does
I'm always letting my senses get in the way - particularly the combination of my mind and my eyes. When I first began my yoga practice I thought the headstand looked impossible. Especially since I began my yoga practice just before I turned 30. I thought “only kids can do headstand”.
My mind and my eyes completely ignored the obvious: that in a headstand my center of gravity is lower than when I stand on my feet and the surface area on the floor is much greater in headstand than when I’m on my feet. Uh, hello?
Shortly after I mastered that silly obstacle I began teaching yoga classes. One of my favorite teaching methods was to have the class do sun salutations with their eyes closed. Every time students felt a foot reach the edge of the mat that was their cue they were off-center.
Don’t look at your foot! Just move over a little! No big deal, but interesting to observe how the eyes and the mind work together. Sometimes they work well and other times they form a conspiracy and lie to me about the possibilities. In yoga, sense withdrawal has one of those fancy Sanskrit names: pratyāhāra. And by taking one of the senses away the other ones have room to improve. Because they’re not being pushed out of the way by my jerky eyeballs.
Time to Rethink and Reevaluate
My ears and my mind are another set of liars. I’ve been watching the cool yogis “float” forward for years, but every time I try to “float” from downward dog to forward bend I land like someone dropped me from a four-story building. Boom! Nothing graceful about it. For years I’ve been listening to teachers tell me to “look between my hands.”
I'm assuming this is because my feet are supposed to land there. Okay? It. Doesn’t. Work. At. All. Boom! And sometimes I even lose my balance! Jeez! I’ve been doing this for over ten years! How annoying!
Apparently I’ve been looking in the wrong place and listening to the wrong people. I did some research and discovered that instead of looking between my hands I might try looking at the horizon. Wow. What a difference! I don’t land quietly every time, but I’m having to deprogram over ten years of listening to an instruction that didn’t work. Maybe it’s the appropriate instruction for someone, but if I listen, most students in classes I take sound like The Thing instead of Spiderman when they land. Just like me. Just sayin’.
Why Is This Important?
Years ago I hear that insanity was doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results. This isn’t just true on my mat. It’s also true in life.
If I want something to change I can’t just think about it. I need to take action. And I also need to be open to the possibility that I’m doing something wrong. Not in the moral sense, but in the incorrect sense. And it’s important for me to listen to teachers both old and new. And reevaluate because they might be wrong. And I’ll know the difference if I pay attention.