To raise our practice of asanas out of the realm of physical exercise and into the sphere of Yoga sadhana, we need to learn methods of staying conscious and listening with awareness.
We are always listening to something, though much of the time it is not with conscious awareness. During our hatha Yoga practice, that “something” to which we listen—consciously or unconsciously—will greatly impact the quality and results of our experience.
To keep our practice fresh, we should feel that each day we are exploring new territory. When we are crossing unknown terrain, it is helpful to have signposts that allow us to get our bearings. In our hatha Yoga practice, there are two kinds of signposts: The messages coming from external sources and the messages coming from internal sources. Depending on which messages we read, we can end up at very different destinations.
What is an external oriented message? Here are five examples:
- Other people. This type of external orientation comes in the form of trying to copy others. We may try to make our asana look like the teacher’s, or the picture on the calendar, or the person next to us raising their legs higher than us in Salabhasana.
- Spatial measurement. An example of this form of external orientation is to see six inches between your chest and your thigh in Paschimottanasana, and to feel that your goal in the asana is to remove that space.
- Time. In this form of external orientation, how long to hold an asana and how long to rest between asanas is a predetermined set amount of time.
- Listening outside. We lead busy lives, so it can be helpful to listen to the news or our voicemails while doing our practice, right? We should just recognize that if this is the “signpost” that we choose to orient us for this journey, then we will end up at a destination that reflects our choice. What about music? This is more of a personal issue that may be better suited for a separate blog posting. But for this article, we can briefly say that we need to be aware how the music is affecting our practice—is it drawing us out or tuning us in?
- Thoughts. Again, with our lives so full, our asana practice may seem like a good time for multi-tasking. It may seem like an efficient use of time to do some planning for the day or processing some feelings that have yet to be dealt with. Or, it is likely that at some point during our practice we will drift away in subconscious reverie, fairly oblivious to the present moment and what is going on in the body. Thoughts could be considered an “internal” external orientation; they are driving a wedge between our consciousness and the experience in front of us.
There may be times when you are not able to, or don’t want to, eliminate all external orientation. They can have their utility. The person on the mat next to us may help us to realize that we can gently move further toward our edge than we recognized on our own. Setting a length of time (or breaths) to hold an asana can allow the mind to remain quiet, without getting confused by the different inner voices arguing when to come out of the pose.
Can you think of any other functional uses of being somewhat externally focused?
I believe that it is safe to say, though, that listening to externals feeds into an achievement-oriented, competitive mode of practice. And because our attention is directed outward, it is probably the orientation we have whenever we get hurt.
Next post let’s look at what it means to listen with an internal orientation.
Shanthi and Prem,