December 16-17, 2021
One woman recently commented that the bow pose was pretty easy for her, and I said that sometimes we can easily get to the bony limitations in the poses, though the number of those poses for me are becoming fewer and fewer. A long time student and teacher trainee said that she was surprised to hear that yoga was getting harder for me since I practice daily; today she said she was actually a little disturbed by that comment, thinking “Is there any hope for me?!.”
I did respond to her observation in class and later thanked her for providing the idea for the next blog, which is this. I’ve had some days to explore this more deeply in my practice which has been very interesting; so again, thanks for being my teacher. What I’ve come to in that time is that some things have gotten harder and some things have gotten easier, as we might tend to expect. My student was asking the question from the idea that the practice of the poses would only get easier with all that practice, as would be true of many things that we “practice” or practice daily, like brushing our teeth or perhaps playing an instrument.
Part of my initial answer to her was that I have injuries—from yoga mostly, sadly, being a major pusher earlier on in the process, but also from life as this body is getting older and injuries happen. Those injuries have made it so that if I’m not very mindful and sensitive, I pay a higher price for it than I did years ago. The positive side is that those injuries have “demanded” of me that I really be more aware and sensitive in the process. (And if we are remembering Joel Kramer’s, Erich Schiffmann’s, David Coulter’s and my teaching, Yoga is all about…Awareness!) Additionally, one student observed that the body is always changing, which is true, and that makes the need for awareness even greater, especially as a body gets older, and not taking for granted what we had learned in the body previously and thinking that it will always apply. That thought was never true, but in a much younger body, it seemed more true.
One of my teachers long ago—I don’t remember who it was but I was in my 30’s at the time—said, ONLY to the over-40 crowd (though I now personally think it could be anywhere between 40-45), “sometimes maintenance is progress.” If you are under 40 and are not living this life in a severely compromised body, that does not apply to you yet. One key word here is “sometimes,” which depends on a number of different factors including the specific pose, age, how much yoga or other conscious-movement things you have done, what your life has been like up till that point, and injuries. If we do nothing and live our life, the body will continue to close down and get more and more solid, hard and rough—as opposed to supple, pliable and smooth. This phenomenon will be mirrored in the mind as well. (In all likelihood, you know people who model those types of body and mind.) Left to its own devices and without doing anything to counteract this completely natural tendency, the body and mind will close and shrink rather than getting more full, radiant and expansive. A closed body and/or mind is, of course, a painful thing to live in.
In addition to all that, some of the things that have gotten easier have actually made other things harder. Mostly it’s easier to be aware of and present to a wider range of sensations, and it’s very easy to discern and intelligently play or follow the edge, the place right before pain, where transformation happens most quickly. It’s also easier to maintain a loving and compassionate attitude toward all the parts of myself, which means that all the hidden parts are more willing to reveal themselves.
One “problem” with this shift is that now it’s harder to space out and avoid facing difficult parts of my experience. Actually it’s still pretty easy to space out but harder to actually avoid stuff since I can more easily tell when something’s going on that I don’t want to be present with, when I am avoiding some part of my experience. As I’m now more aware when I’m avoiding something in my body/experience (and the cues seem to get more and more obvious), I have less and less tolerance for allowing and continuing the avoidance of whatever’s trying to reveal itself. The end result is that every day I get to experience more and deeper painful parts of myself, which is never easy, pleasant or enjoyable. (In case you thought I was “done” with the process, I’m not, as should be obvious by now.) The benefit, though, of facing and going through this deeper and more painful shit, is as Amma, my Teacher, says that whatever depths of pain we experience means that we have the capacity to experience that level of bliss, bliss being one aspect of our True Nature; in my words, we can only experience as high a state of Consciousness as we have experienced low. That does seem to be true, as best I can tell.
Because it’s easier to be aware now of a wider range of sensations, sometimes there’s SO MUCH going on in the pose that it’s difficult to know what is the thing to give the focus to at any moment. (There’s always so much going on in the poses, and in Life, when I choose to be present with it.) It’s also tended to slow down the asana practice, sometimes fairly dramatically. Fortunately it’s also easier to tune into and receive guidance from the Inner Teacher/Inner Wisdom which makes these issues a little less.
This increased sensitivity to subtler sensations also has demanded a challenging shift to allow “it all” to be happening at once, rather than what had initially begun as intense one-pointed focus on “individual” sensations or on specific locations of Energy flow. Now there’s so much that needs to be allowed to happen simultaneously—as was probably always the case—which has required a kind of opening of the mind and the will to cooperate with the Flow. This cooperation with the Flow has necessitated and allowed an easier shift to being the Witness and to getting out of the way. This mental/emotional/energetic shift to the “it all” is much easier than before, when the on-the-mat Yoga process was more like “whack-a-mole” (in the non-violent, animal-rights kind of way, of course 😉), meaning one thing would get the focus, then the next, then the next, then the next, and then back to the beginning one which had been lost and forgotten by that time. At some point they all can click in together, but it took a lot of mental effort to get there.
It’s also gotten easier to be aware of the breath and to continue to breathe and to be able to tell from the quality of the breath where the edge is, which is part of the many things that make the on-the-mat process that much more enjoyable and easeful. Also it’s gotten easier and easier to WANT to get on the mat or my meditation seat—which was only hard for a short period long ago—even “though” it means having to face and be present with internal pain and discomfort, in addition to other more pleasant and wonderful things. It’s gotten easier to genuinely love myself just as I am, not in a narcissistic way but partly as an appreciation of the challenges that I have been through in what I consider my privileged life and of all the work in a positive direction that I have done. I honor and value myself more easily than I did. I imagine the same is true of anyone reading this, especially those of you who have been practicing for some time.
Certainly the number of poses that I can just “fall into” and enjoy at the easy, bony limit are essentially non-existent anymore, but I am very engaged in the process and more easily able to find where there are blocks to the flow. Even when there were a lot of poses that I could just “pop” into and just sensuously enjoy, I was still always on the lookout for where was the energy not flowing completely smoothly. I figure that if we are not experiencing our total Oneness with All, there are blocks going on in there somewhere, though they may be more subtle—or hidden, or painful—than we are able or willing to see…yet. From one perspective, it’s the blocks to the Energy flow that are what our ego is made up of, clings itself to and identifies itself as; it is NOT comfortable, hence the ego’s endless agitation and anxiety!
In the beginning of my reflection on all this, I mostly was concerned that Yoga practitioners might hear that for me Yoga has gotten harder, not easier, and would feel disheartened or discouraged and thus less interested in continuing. Turns out that I was correct in that concern. Don’t get me wrong; I find the Yoga process to be even more fun and valuable now than earlier, though it’s less “sensuously gratifying” and less mentally and emotionally easy. However, it has been worth every ounce of effort and every second of time; it’s been worth every tear and every laugh out loud, every gut-wrenching sob and hearty belly-laugh; it’s been worth all the intense mental and emotional pain that have come up in the process; in a way, it’s even been worth all those Yoga injuries, but definitely DON’T try for those! For me they have been and continue to be great teachers.
One of the big things I continue to learn, layer after layer, is that how I want things to be easy and “my way” just reveals where I’m still stuck. The Divine Plan doesn’t necessarily care about my selfish wants and desires, but It does care about what is best for me, you and All. Any expectations I try to put on That will, at some point, be crushed. To conclude, it’s also become easier to drop expectations of the process, though I’m sure that I have many more to go and that it’ll still be hard when they come up, just easier than it had been previously.
This gets us to the “Keep going!” part. Just keep going, y’all!