By any measure, a photo of this tree is unremarkable. It’s my yoga tree, an uncrowded place I go to move, breathe, and sit in stillness. This spot brings together my past and present; my past represented by the baseball field a few feet away and the present in my grounding movement above the roots of this gnarled cipher.
The twisted branches above remind me that yogis refer to the strands of yoga as limbs. But limbs or branches are also used to illustrate human avidya, our klutzy and misplaced aggressions and ambitions. The tree grows down and up; I stand in the middle where my biology holds pieces of both the cithonic and the radiant, dust and stardust. Above the roots I reach and yet am grounded; below the limbs I am grounded and yet reach. All the while, doing yoga in the force of hatha’s opposites.
Under the yoga tree I do my yoga and find – in this sparse, grassy veranda between past and future – my present. And it really is a present . . . for which I’m grateful. AND, it’s outdoors too for which I’m doubly grateful. I hope that you can get out and find a place to do your yoga today.
Spiritual leaders through the Centuries have reminded us that living in the present is important; yet this counsel is often overlooked. We might want to ask of ourselves then:
- What does that really mean?
- How does a yogi come into the present?
- What’s the point of coming into the present?
- Does it happen through breath, does it happen with a pose, does it happen in the mind?
Redefining yoga culture
It’s impossible to become present when pressed for time, and its impossible to achieve a present state quickly because every yogi comes into the moment with busy minds. When distracted, our minds are ablaze and ideas in our heads jump around like monkeys leaping from tree to tree. One person said the internal mind with its thoughts is like a fan whirling at high speed. Even when it’s turned off, it takes a while for the blades to stop spinning. So coming into the present takes patience, which is the hardest thing for busy people.
So when a yoga practitioner comes to a class and hears someone say “come into the present,” it’s asking a lot because stilling a busy mind happens in decades, not minutes. The move to presence sounds easy: the yogi is told to release all cares of the day – which is an act of trust and surrender – but on both the conscious and unconscious level people resist letting down and surrendering.
The survivalist in us, and the often unconscious portion of our brain, is always vigilant and it tells us to stay on guard. On a conscious level in the personality, we are poised to take care of ourselves and stay alert.
Life’s trivialities and their agitations are good for us because they provide the curriculum for change. They offer every yogi a second chance to let it go and sink deeper into the moment. We cannot possibly make big changes until we first make the small ones.
A time to make micro-changes is offered to us each time we show up on the mat and it begins with the beginning as we move in. Someone said it well when they wrote that you practice yoga and the journey begins. It’s really as simple as that.
When we come home to our self – maybe by practicing alone – the journey truly begins and its easier to accept everything that is without filters or escapism because we are alone. Our moments alone are the moments we can let our guard down, be honest with ourself, and drop into the edge of mystery. There we begin to inhabit the boundaries of that which is truly important . . . the self and the larger Self.
When the yogi is able to start practice by leaving behind all that which has happened in the previous hours of the day, and accept the moment fully, the yogic state of surrender and acceptance can begin. In this “state” the yogi is one not only with the moment but with themselves in their essence now. This is sat, or truth. In its full expression, it is the yogi in the presence of their own truth force. Unraveling this change of perception is one of yoga’s great gifts and this perceptual awareness is the foundation in a large portion of the Yoga Sutras.
Yoga puts us in a receptive state. Yoga prepares us through breath and movement to surrender. It is the breath that centers us writes Yogi Ramacharaka in Science of Breath, a book published in 1905 and now out of print. It does so not through some undefined mystical quality, but through the rhythm of deliberate and focused breathing as a biological act in which all the koshas and aspects of the person are involved. This is profoundly important for both the theory of teaching and for daily yoga life and practice.
Let It Be
We may show up for class and wish for a different teacher, or may want to change the music or temperature in the room. Perhaps we don’t want to be next to someone in the class; maybe another person is crowding us or trying to talk when we want to be silent. We may want to breathe deeper and move slower than what the instructor is cueing or move faster.
These kinds of thoughts happen and they become the lessons in relinquishing control over the little things, the things which have nothing to do with our true self. Here’s a mantra you may want to try: LET IT BE.
Tune into the rhythm of your breath. Let it lead you past the thoughts racing like a fan through your mind. Put aside your wish to speed up or slow down, to change the music, the heat, or the instructor. Lean deeply into your breathing for it will lead you to a state of release. And what does this do? It teaches you and me to Let It Be. There is peace in these three little words.
It is not a small thing to let it be, to breathe with awareness, to find your presence. And then, when your yoga becomes you, your breath may lead you into shades of ease and the bearable lightness of allowing you just be you.
Ramacharaka, Y. (1905). Science of Breath: A Complete Manual of the Oriental Breathing Philosophy of Physical, Mental, Psychic and Spiritual Development. Yoga Publications Society. Out of print.