Body Freedom & Yoga
So you think you know how to do the postures? And you say you have been practising for years! Well, so have I, and it doesn’t mean a thing. The mystery of our self is too big to be explored in a few paltry years. But my own little expedition may have trodden a different part of this dark continent than yours. So let us stick our bits of map together and see if they fit.
On my trek I became fascinated by the problem of how ‘I’ related to myself. I know those are just words, but here is how we began to define the problem in working as a yoga class. Relaxing on our blankets we breathed in and out deeply for a few breaths. Then each of us took a deep breath and held it for as long as possible. Try this before reading on.
It is interesting to know that this was a test given to the members of the Mount Everest expedition. It was used to test determination, will power, perseverance, all of which members would need. But, perseverance against what? Well, quite simply, the demands of the body when exposed to stress conditions. It isn’t the mountain that threatens it is the fatigue, the physical cold, the hunger for oxygen.
Looked at from another angle, the test shows we have a definite relationship with our body that we cannot ignore. Our awareness of ourselves as a personality is distinctly dependent upon processes that create us. Once we have gained this self-awareness however, we can begin to interfere with the processes of our being. Holding our breath is such an interference. Ego or will power, asserts itself over the creative processes of being. If we hold our breath long enough our being also asserts itself very forcibly. We go into spasms and acute pain. If we continue through this pain we black out. The creative processes of our being will no longer support this errant and wilful ego which it gave birth to. So it knocks it out to regain control. After all, matches are not handed to babies.
Walking within Walls
When approaching the postures, we have to do so in a way that holds in mind that we relate to our body, our self, in a very special way. We have to acknowledge our dependence; but we also have to acknowledge our freedom.
Perhaps this can be explained by another experiment we did in class. Try it now if you can. We stood up and walked about the room wherever we felt impelled to. Then we were asked to stand near to and facing the wall. We were then told ‘Now try to walk through it.’
Ridiculous? Not really. The room represent our body, our environment, the world and universe in which we live. If we walk within the walls, we have infinite freedom. We can run, jump, roll, and so on. But if we try to walk through the wall our freedom is immediately stopped. That is, if we work within the laws of our being, nature, the universe, we have infinite freedom and scope for growth and activity. If we work against those laws, imprisonment and pain result. If I eat within the needs of my body, I can go on finding joy in it day after day. If I eat arsenic, I suffer the consequences.
Therefore, in doing our postures, if we watch the response of our being to what we are doing, we begin to learn whether we are walking within the walls, or banging our head against them.
Tenseness to Relaxing
Moving on to more directly physical techniques of doing the postures, we also relate to our being in the way we hold ourselves in the asana. Another useful experiment we have done in class to define this is as follows. Again, try it now if you have a partner. First learn the difference in feeling between tension and relaxation. Tense the legs, hips – by pulling the rectum in as if holding back wanting to go to the loo – arms by clenching fists, shoulders by raising them to ears – face by clenching teeth and wrinkling brow. Analyse the feeling and gradually let go, noticing the sensation of dropping tension. Do this a few times to clarify the feeling of letting go of yourself. Now, lying on the floor, have your partner take your arms and move them; then the same with the legs, while you let go of them. You may be surprised to find that although you have ‘let go’, tensions still remain, or you help your partner instead of handing over. Practise until you can release the resistances to giving yourself over.
Once you have defined this, let go of all unnecessary tensions and resistances while in the postures.
The postures will then begin to feel good, pleasurable, relaxing. Also learn how to be more relaxed in stress situations. Particular things to watch in the posture are tension in the genitals, in the breathing, and in/on the face. The breathing should be free and moving the diaphragm, and abdomen. The genitals should be relaxed and able to experience the pleasure of the posture. The face, when successful, expressing enjoyment or ease.
When these points are incorporated into the practice of asanas, another dimension of experience should gradually emerge. It is the sensation of rightness – of beauty. To grasp this, you can practise another simple experiment. Do this by imagining a worm. Now imitate it by adopting whatever posture comes to mind. Do the same with a rock and a tree. You can do this before reading on.
You will almost certainly find that intuitively your body only feels ‘right’ in a particular posture. i.e. you would not feel ‘right’ as a worm in the headstand. Therefore, when doing the classical postures of the cobra, tree, tortoise, etc., feel the ‘rightness’ of them rather than just following formulated methods. Also, while in each posture, does a feeling of aesthetic pleasure arise – a sense of beauty? If not, move around gently in the posture until you find it. Seek it out, it is there.
As I said, this is just a bit of my map, so I hope it fits yours.