We have just finished a yoga asana class and I am aware of the internal dialogue I often have as we near the time for savasana. What do the people in front of me need or want? How might I steer the last minutes of a practice such that the group leaves more relaxed, renewed, refocused?
At the start of this particular class, some people needed help with lower back tightness; others, with the breath. A new person talked about how the constant upheaval of moving frequently in his early years makes him feel like he is constantly holding his breath, stuck in old patterns of anticipating change. These were great ‘themes’ around which to build a practice; back pain and breathing problems are fairly common. It is hard to stay fluid and mobile when your chest and back ‘seize up’. Sometimes what we need most is to cultivate awareness so that we sit, walk, speak and breath with greater ease.
The asana sequence we moved through was secondary to this idea of ‘awareness’. Whether you are standing or sitting; lying down on your back or on your belly; everything you do is enhanced by awareness. For most of us, this means slowing down enough to simply pay attention. It means accepting the invitation at the beginning of every ‘practice’ to leave your busy life at the threshold, tuck your cell phone in your bag, and roll out your mat. It means being generous, and letting your relationships evolve- to the teacher, to the fellows around you, to your Self in this time and place. People are always arriving and leaving, more so in places like San Miguel. But wherever you are, your practice is too.
We ended class seated in sukhasana with our hands cupping the space between the navel and pubis symphysis, breathing deeply into our bellies. As I watched bodies settle, with shoulders dropping and facial features softening, it appeared that this group was ready to move into a meditation about ‘listening’.
I like to introduce this particular meditation after a few sessions, when it feels like the group has established a sense of rapport. It can be challenging to listen to ourselves; we have voices of discontent, malcontent, what-if’s and regrets; we have the must do’s, have to do’s, and don’t want to do’s; the judgements, the over inflation and the devaluation. What if we could become as adept at quieting those voices as we do at forming our bodies into utthita trikonasana? What if we were as invested in softening a hardened heart, or disciplining our ‘monkey-mind’ as we are in a strong and supple body?
In this meditation, we first train our ears to listen at the outermost perimeter of sounds for airplanes, road traffic, and all the clangs and gongs of a city going about its business. From there we draw the circle in a little closer, and after a few minutes, closer still. It’s like taking in a view from the horizon to the paving stones right at your feet. Eventually, we can hear the thrum of insects, the buzz of bees perched on flowers and the soft swish of bird wings. We notice our neighbor’s breathing. Then we take our listening inside to our heartbeat and pulse and even the gurglings of our bellies. Once we can locate and identify sounds, we have a template for locating and identifying things less physically tangible: emotions, feelings and intuitions.
This practice of ‘deep listening’ invites us to sit at a table we have set for ourselves. We are the honored guest, and as such we are given the time and space to needed to speak. It takes practice to sit at your own table, and welcome in whomever shows up, be they boisterous, dogmatic, seductive or shy.
This practice brings to mind a poem by Thomas Carlisle:
It is good to use best china
the most genuine goblets
the oldest lace tablecloth.
There’s a risk, of course,
every time you use anything
or anyone shares an inmost moment,
or a fragile cup of revelation.
But not to touch, not to handle,
the artifacts of being human-
is the quiet crash, the deadly catastrophe
where nothing is enjoyed or broken
or spilled or spoken,
or stained, or mended –
where nothing is ever lived, loved, laughed over, wept over,
where nothing is ever lost,