Practice and all is coming – Sri K Pattabhi Jois
With every brave, bold, blind step I take into the unknown, the path unfolds before my eyes as if by magic. Where once there was confusion, a tangle of undergrowth, now there is clarity, a clear direction.
There is no destination. I am not trying to reach a certain point, when I will sit back, arms crossed, smugly thinking, ‘I’ve done it.’ I am evolving, and it is timeless and infinite, this exploration, this growth.
When I first stepped on a yoga mat, (well, for a long time I didn’t even own a mat but rather lay a folded blanket on the floor of whatever bedroom I was sleeping in at the time) nothing could have prepared me for the amazing, intense and life-changing journey that was ahead. And no-one could have articulated how infinite the change and shifts would be, how macro and how micro or how much there was to explore. There is more inside you than you can conceive of. More potential, possibility, space and love than you thought possible.
And it all begins with the breath.
Recently, I have totally re-awakened to the exploration of the breath. I mean, really delved deep. Conscious or mindful breath is fundamental to my practice and my life. I start the day focusing on it during meditation, tune into it regularly throughout the day, use it to flow my way through my asana. Think you’ve got this breathing thing sorted? Think again.
Waking up to what has become second nature and all too familiar offers a wonderful opportunity to dive in deeper. Using the breath that I have fallen in love with, consider my anchor, my sanity and my home base, I have begun to find more going on there than I realised. And more. And yet more.
So, this is the challenge.
Sit comfortably and give yourself time to settle. To bed in. Let your physical body adapt to the posture and become comfortable. Let your mind let go of clambering and chasing and invite it to become still. Just for a few moments. Begin to focus all of your awareness on the gentle coming and going of your breath, in and out of the nose. Stay in this place for as long as you need to allow a really deep centring and quietening to settle around you. Let yourself feel the outer, more obvious shifts and changes as the breath enters the body; the rise of the chest, the expansion in the ribs, the creating of space. Notice the sensation of the air passing over the throat. The movement deep in the abdomen.
Then try to start to dial up your tuning fork. Start to pick up more and more subtle sensations. Tiny movements far away from those in the chest. What about more subtle shifts? Imagine getting into this on a cellular level, feeling every cell of your body responding to the receiving of breath, every cell responding to release of breath, the letting go. Keep breathing and experiencing. Everything. Feeling everything, missing nothing.
Now, look inside. Without losing the integrity of your posture. Without losing the serenity of quiet and still, keeping all that like a soft frame at your outer edges, travel inside. Witness what you find without fear or judgement. Fall deeply into the vast, unfathomable, expansive universe of space inside you.
As without. So within.
This simple, yet profoundly difficult, practice has kept people busy for hundreds of years. Only recently has the research begun in earnest and the results will come as no surprise to anyone already familiar with the shifts and changes, the growth, peace and joy which spring from practice. Mindfulness takes this a step further, takes practice off the cushion or mat and into your day-to-day life and can be used effectively and extremely easily at any moment using only your own senses;
Look – really notice things during your day. The light coming through the trees, a dew drop balanced on a leaf, the eyes of the child climbing onto your lap. Look deeply. Notice deeply.
Listen – I find anchoring myself in sound one of the most effective ways of staying grounded in the here and now and mitigating the onslaught of crazy-mind. Car tyres on a wet road. An owl at dusk. Road works. A candle sputtering. As the wonderful meditation teacher Tara Brach always says, use the sounds you can hear to root you in reality, not the virtual-reality of your thoughts.
Taste – really pay attention to the food and drink you consume. Slow right down. Savour that morning coffee. Eat with mindful awareness, fully appreciating each taste, texture and nourishing morsel which passes your lips.
Smell – The smell of wet concrete after a sudden rainfall. Damp undergrowth. The fur between your dog’s ears. A freshly bathed child. Lavender oil. Roasting vegetables. A cake fresh out of the oven.
You can repeatedly return yourself to the present from whichever far-flung place you’ve wandered off to in your mind using these simple techniques. Follow the breath. And, unless you have expired, or live in a vacuum, breath and sensory input will always be available. Use them. Learn to love them. Be guided home by them.
Try a mindful day.
Try a short time of deep breath and inner-space exploration.
Good luck and have fun