by Kara-Leah Grant, Musings from the Mat
One of the great gifts of sharing my internal processes of life so honestly on-line is that I learn from myself.
Often, a few years after I’ve written an article, I will re-read it and see the illusions that I was labouring under at the time.
Yes, the article is usually about an insight into a difficulty, but there is always another layer or level of illusion. Through re-reading my own articles I’m able to watch myself wake up and become more conscious.
This helps with the realisation that we are not static beings trapped inside a fixed container of personality. We are ever-changing and evolving, moment to moment.
A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences with knee pain in my Ashtanga practice. As always, writing this article helped me to clarify how to approach a difficult situation in my life.
The comments on this article have been interesting and, as they often do, they’ve helped me to gain greater understanding into my process.
One commenter emphasised the common idea in yogic circles that we are not our bodies and that yoga is about transcending the body. They even questioning the purpose of practicing asana – why bother with asana if you’re really serious about Yoga as a state of consciousness? Once the body can sit still and steady with ease, what’s the point of doing more asana?
I watched as this comment tweaked my ego. I wanted to explain, rationalise and defend myself and my ideas.
The interesting thing about operating from this level of awareness is that even though I can sense how I’m reacting or responding to a given circumstance, I can’t always change the reaction or response – it has to play out. Yet in the observation of my ego in action I’m able to ask deeper questions about my experience.
As I queried into who or what I was feeling the need to defend, I realised that this commenter was pointing to a subtle aspect of my yoga practice.
I have become wrapped up in this idea of freeing my body and liberating my spine.
I want to feel ease in my practice and I’ve been stuck on this idea that that ease will come about once I get to a certain point – once my pelvis releases, once my hamstrings release, once I get there… and we all know that there never arrives.
Stuck on the experience of the body in my asana practice I’ve been lax in disciplining my mind through the practice.
My mind is super-active during asana, leaping all over the place, writing articles, contemplating emails, wondering how to pay rent this week, thinking about my son’s behaviour. And I’ve been letting it. I haven’t been concerned or worried about what my mind was doing because my focus was on physically freeing my body.
Yet as this commenter reminded me, we are not our bodies and neither is asana our yoga.
Yoga is an eternal unchanging state of consciousness. My body is a temporary and always changing vehicle of flesh and blood.
Today in practice, I switched intention and began to focus on what my mind was doing, gently calling it back to focus as it wondered here, there and everywhere.
Mind wanders. Bring it back. Mind wanders. Bring it back. Mind wanders. Bring it back, bring it back, bring it back.
A shift in my experience of practice; a crack of light illuminating something I hadn’t noticed before – my yoga practice has become tough and hard and difficult and striving.
I found myself in the middle of posture remembering a time when yoga was light-hearted and joyous and exploratory – when it was new and exciting and I didn’t know what to expect. Now, I know what to expect. I know what I’m getting. And I struggle with it – I struggle with my body, which always seems tight and rigid and sore and weak.
It wasn’t always like this. My body has never felt flexible, but it has felt supple and strong at times.
Part of this shift is because I’m doing more Ashtanga and less flowing home practice and Ashtanga is really challenging for me. My own personal practice is more fun and joyous because I general avoid postures which hit up hard against my body’s tightness.
Today, focusing on my state of being and the focus of my mind, my practice shifted. Ease appeared seemingly out of no-where.
My shoulders and torso dropped down, opened up and softened. I felt a letting go. In that letting go another insight floated to the surface.
In last week’s article I wrote;
‘I don’t trust the process’.
Later that week I was in session with a talented healer who was working with my right side – which is markably tighter than my left. It’s all about trust, he said.
You don’t trust men at all.
Yeah, I know that. Psychics and healers have been telling me that since I was 19 years old. Sigh. Knowing something and being able to do something about it are two different things.
What would it feel like to trust life and trust men?
He asked as he continued to work on me. I contemplated his question. What would that be like? I sounded it out in my head.
“I trust life. I trust men.”
What did that feel like?
It’s no coincidence that when I finally found a teacher to work with it was a man. Or that the second teacher I’ve found to work with (two within six months!!!) is also a man.
Much of the tightness in my body comes from a complete lack of trust in men. One might even say a deep fear of men. What it specifically springs from I can’t tell you – it’s old and deep and likely ancestral and past life. Nothing atrocious ever happened to the younger me that could have embedded such a deep fear or lack of trust.
But I feel it now. It’s rising to the surface.
Going through my practice, focusing on my state of being, I began to chant a mantra to keep my mind focused.
“I am safe. I am safe. I trust life. I trust life.”
I chanted it as I slowly working my knees in half-Lotus positions, allowing breath and prana to take me in and noticing the different nuances of nadi opening up in my hips. I felt space where there was none last week. Now that I’ve given up the idea of any form of half Lotus, I’m enjoying allowing the posture to arise from within. This is my usual way of practicing and it feels safer and stronger.
In Wheel pose, I felt my right hip want to seize up and my lower back jumped in on the act too, as if called to action like a watch guard. I consciously released the front of my right hip repeating my mantra of safe and trust and my lower back released too.
Another connection. All those back issues all those years… connected to the front of the right hip seizing up and shutting down? Possibly.
After Wheel, I released into a forward bend and Mike came over to give me a deep adjustment – the one where the teacher kneels behind you and leans forward using the weight of their torso to press you down.
Mike works gently and patiently and this was the first time he’d given me this particular adjustment. It’s intimate and confining and my immediate response was to resist and fight. I realised that there is this man pressing down on top of me with his body weight and I can’t move. But once I noted my reaction, I consciously chose another one. I relaxed in my breath and tuned into Mike’s energy, feeling his intention and care for me while I repeated the mantra.
“I am safe. I trust. I am safe. I trust.”
As I surrendered deeper with each breath I could feel Mike subtly working with his energy to encourage certain parts of my spine to release. It’s the way I work with students one-on-one – the physical adjustment really happens through the meeting of the energy fields.(Stay tuned for more articles on this to come).
Afterwards I could sense a flicker of the way life used to feel, before single parenthood, before abusive relationships, before psychosis, before drug use, before I woke up to the realities of my body and psyche.
It was only a flicker yet it was enough to remind me that there is another way to be in life.
That even in the midst of the difficulties – because there will always be difficulties – one can be light-hearted and open and free. That it is our natural state of being.
Last week’s article reflected the truth of my experience at that time. I was learning how to work safely with my knees within the context of the practice. That swung the pendulum toward the physical side of the practice. Paying attention to my reactions to the comments on the article and attuning to what else was showing up in my life meant I was able to discern a deeper level of being at work than just the physical.
This helped shift my awareness back to the subtler aspects of my Ashanga practice.
In the shift back to state of being, I became aware of how my inability to trust the process was pointing to layers within me that were ready to shift. That it wasn’t all about the physical placement of the knees at all – part of me was being reactive because I didn’t trust.
Yet how could I surrender to the process while still retaining my own sense of empowerment? Is this possible?
Of course it is – this is the real practice of yoga. Maintaining one’s own centre while constantly trusting the teacher and the process.
I can work safely with my knees at my own pace while staying grounded in a state of being and learning to let go and trust.
All of these things can be true at once.
This ability to express an idea while holding lightly to it (that I didn’t trust the process of Ashtanga Yoga and was going to work cautiously with my knees) and continue to process new information as it arises (noticing the ego defences being tripped and becoming aware of trust issues) is the process of waking up.
It’s the process of consciousness in action – the journey from the idea of ourselves as personality to the knowing of ourselves as consciousness. And I can trust that process.