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Mindful : October 2015
willingness to take on the challenges of the day. Then, take time to notice how you feel in the moment—ener- gized, depleted, calm, agitated, strong, hungry, or something else. If you listen truthfully to yourself, you may discover that you are actually too tired for more than a few gentle poses today. Or that you absolutely have to write down a brilliant idea before you can let go of your thoughts and meditate. Or that your plans for the day are stressing you out and you need to make changes. Too often, a brief moment like this is the only time in the day that you stop and let “you” influence the course of events, rather than demanding that you get up when the alarm says you should, sit down and work because you must, or get busy taking care of some- one else’s needs without considering your own. You may find when you take this time for reflection and showing concern for your own well-being, that anger or tears well up from some issue you haven’t addressed. That, too, can be welcomed gently and kindly into the experience of the moment. This intimacy with oneself is the root of compassion, for oneself and others. Amazingly, it is easy to discover and strengthen it by simply spending a few moments exploring how you feel and then acting in a way that honors those feelings. This same intimacy can be culti- vated as you move through poses. It requires concentration and commit- ment to listening to yourself, espe- cially if you are practicing in a group class. To begin, shift your intention from mastering the form of each pose to feeling the sensation that accom- panies it. What is your experience of moving into it, being in it, and moving out of it? Temporarily set aside the idea that there is a “right way” to do each pose, the striving to do better. Instead, observe yourself with curiosity, hon- esty, and genuine receptivity: How does your body feel in the pose in this moment? What changes can you make to find more ease in the pose? Can you choose greater ease for yourself, even when it means backing off from a deeper version of the pose? CARRIED AWAY BY EXPERIENCE It is easiest to begin yoga as an aware- ness practice in a class that empha- sizes self-exploration over achieve- ment—like the Tuesday class I attend. I asked Patricia Sullivan, our teacher, about her intentions for the class. “I don’t want to impart knowledge,” she says, “but rather to evoke the experi- ence of awareness of and within the body and heart/mind.” It seems radical to me that a teacher isn’t interested in impart- ing knowledge—isn’t that what we commonly think of as the role of a teacher? And yet her words capture the essence of her class: While she offers pose instructions and shares her vast knowledge of the physical practice, she insists that we let our individual experiences (and the different needs of our bodies) take precedence over her instruction. Taking a cue from her, I’ve realized that practicing with awareness often means setting aside my ingrained desire to learn how to do things better, in an effort to see myself more clearly. In my notes from a class I took in 2005 with B.K .S. Iyengar (1918-2014), founder of Iyengar Yoga and one of India’s leading exporters of asana practice, I found a potent message: “Don’t be carried away by others’ words. Be carried away by your own experiences,” he counseled. “I’m not doing the asana for some purpose like being physically fit and mentally poised, I’m doing the asana to see myself.” Yoga is so much more joyful when I try to do the same. When you practice with awareness, yoga truly becomes a moving meditation, a moment in which to become intimate with yourself and the smallest details of your experience. The ultimate benefit, of course, is not simply more aware- ness of a particular moment, but a sweet recognition of who you are that extends far beyond the mat. ● When I’m not practicing with awareness, the loud-mouthed voice of determination and pride in my head can quickly override the quiet voice of my actual experience. 46 mindful October 2015 yoga