“The important idea to keep in mind is always to follow the inner feeling. This is one of the primary teachings of yoga.” -Erich Schiffmann’s Yoga the Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness (in the Balance section)
This sentence showed up in the reading in class last week, and I’m repeating it this week. If you didn’t know I have been reading from Erich’s book again—the first time was somewhere around 2000-2002ish. If you haven’t been in class for a long time or read my blog since July, this will all be new for you.. (And so if you are local, maybe that means it’s time to get back to class and keep taking your yoga deeper.) If you have been in class recently, some of this will be review.
Erich’s statement is a powerful, provocative and potentially very important one if it’s true. I’ve been chewing on that statement for over a week. I looked to Amma, my main Teacher, for confirmation of this idea. Amma gives teachings in the programs with her and I’ve read all the books of her talks and questions and answers, but I don’t remember her conveying that idea directly. However, she also has said many times that her life is her teaching. With Erich’s sentence as a lens, one thing that became so obvious from Amma’s life is that she has always followed the inner feeling, the promptings of her heart.
When she was growing up in her small fishing village in southwestern India, she worshiped Krishna non-stop and sang to him and meditated on him deeply. Her parents told her that all that was unnecessary and that she only needed to go to the temple periodically and on holidays, a traditional, mainstream Hindu view. She kept doing as she had been doing, however, and ended up being a world-renowned spiritual leader and humanitarian, I would argue possibly the most powerful force for Good on the planet right now. Following the guidance and motivation to action that she received from within obviously worked for her!
Additionally one of her primary “word teachings,” for lack of a better term, is “Know yourself.” Knowing ourself requires some deep looking/feeling within. We can and must use our mental/thinking capacities in the journey, for sure, but if we don’t delve into the feeling side of our being, as far as I can tell, we will miss the deeper Truth of our Being. Even if we are big on the teachings of neuroscience and take our brain as ourself, we have to acknowledge that actually the majority of nerve tissue in the body is not in the brain but is in the gut, so the brain alone is insufficient to observe for clues into our Being.
Looking to some of my yoga influences, Kripalu Yoga, my first yoga training, teaches that yoga practice culminates in a stage where one surrenders completely to the flow of prana, the Life Force, which is another way of saying one surrenders to and dedicatedly follows the inner guidance, the inner feeling, the inner flow. Even B.K.S. Iyengar, a main influence for Angela Farmer and Victor Von Kooten who are my main teachers, Erich and a number of my other yoga teachers, was indirectly teaching this idea. Though teaching an intensely alignment-focused, which is an externally focused, yoga based on his experience in HIS body, he himself had found the inner feeling, the flow of the inner energy which had revealed to him the alignment(s) for which he became so famous. Those LONG time Iyengar teachers I met and those influenced by him had also found the inner feeling and were more intent on teaching it directly than Iyengar himself from what I’ve heard and seen.
Looking at the big picture of my yoga experience and practice, if I have learned anything, it’s to follow the inner feeling. I am in no ways “perfect” at it, but doing pretty well much of the time, and I have definitely made and continue to get better and better at it.
The physical practice of yoga, as I have said and written many times before, is a good way IN. “IN” is “into the inner feeling.” Currently we are primarily aware of and involved in the “inner thinking” and are, with rare exceptions, completely dedicated to following it unquestioningly. When we come to the physical practice of yoga, we realize more, and ultimately much more, of the vast array of feedback/information that is always coming from our body, and from deeper.
A whole new world opens up as we take the practice deeper. Things that we had taken for granted—ideas, perspectives, dreams, ourself, relationships even… everything—comes to be viewed in a different light because we see now a bigger picture, our perspective has changed through our deeper and more complete experience of ourself. Ultimately, as the teachings say, we come to an intuitive and profound experience of our Self as non-separate from The All, and we all know from experience that thinking only will get in the way of that experience. Feeling, however, clears out and, with practice, quiets the thinking and allows for that bigger vision.
In the early days of learning to follow the inner feeling, the inner guidance, I was studying and practicing a Native American Medicine in which “Follow the Spirit” was one of the primary teachings. One way we practiced that was through ceremony centered around hands-on healing in which we were to pray, “Please, God, help me,” and then follow the Spirit, to act as guided from within. “Follow the Spirit” is the same thing as “follow the inner feeling” since the Spirit, the Infinite Intelligence, needs a way to communicate to the seemingly separate, little self, and the inner feeling is the way it does. Occasionally the inner feeling is transmuted into words that come through to the thinking mind but not always; sometimes its just a feeling that more and more we must follow.
Early on in exploring following the inner guidance, we may get “intuitive hits” on what action to take but not follow them, brushing them off for one intellectual reason or another. In hindsight we can see that it would have been better had we followed it. In yoga practice, this “not getting the message” from the inner feeling can, of course, come from just being too much of a pusher to be able to get any message to ease up, which I have seen in myself and in MANY others, or from being too much of a yielder to be able to receive the message to push or work a little harder.
In my experience, making the sometimes conscious and sometimes unconscious choice to ignore the inner guidance became more and more painful till finally I figured I had nothing really to lose by trying to follow it and see what happened. I got good results, always, from following the inner guidance, though the results were not always pleasant, comfortable, easy or even necessarily enjoyable.
The real problem in this process is, and you know what it is, that the inner feeling is usually quieter and not as pushy as the other, the “inner thinking” or the “inner habit” or, as one student named it last week, “the inner wanting.” Sometimes the inner feeling is louder and more obvious, but I’m sure all of us have had experience with ignoring even that, sometimes even for years! This is why we must endeavor to practice regularly and to think of our yoga practice as becoming more sensitive to the inner feeling AND allowing ourselves to follow its flow, even not knowing where it’s heading.
One other big problem with following the inner feeling is that we have to actually FEEL, and we generally only allow ourselves a certain controlled depth and range of feeling. Some of what is in there to be felt is downright unpleasant or confusing to the mind at best, and painful or seemingly life-threatening at worst. This is where I disagree with Erich saying that “yoga that has a balance between push and yield feels wonderful.” No, not really, when we get into the more hidden parts of ourself if we are an emotional being with any uncomfortable history. The yoga might feel right or helpful or necessary or even divinely inspired, but not necessarily wonderful all the time; wonderful after the fact, for sure, but in the moment, almost everyone in my classes has agreed that we can’t say it’s always “wonderful.”
Ultimately, as we progress, the need to follow the inner feeling becomes so strong it CANNOT be ignored, disregarded, or contradicted. It becomes too uncomfortable and even painful to NOT follow it. The Inner Feeling really is another name for the Flow, the Flow of Life, the Flow of Consciousness, God, Love. It’s the Flow of the One, or the Oneness if you prefer. Other motivation to action comes from our mistaken feeling of separateness and will inevitably yield mixed results AT BEST, and yes, is totally part of the same One Flow.
To end, I’m going to suggest that if you’ve read this far, there is some inner guidance that you have been ignoring; you may even know what it is as you read these words or it may take only a very little self-reflection to know what it is. I know this is true for me and unless you are enlightened, I can’t imagine how it couldn’t be true for you as well. What if you join me in seeing what happens if you follow it. I did and again, got good results, though again, not particularly comfortable the whole time.
May you be blessed in all you do!