Category Archives: Practice

Alignment

In my yoga class this week, we considered the notion of “alignment.” As a Hatha yoga teacher, this concept is central to how I teach. The most fundamental, obvious understanding of alignment in asana practice (the act of putting our body into a particular sequence of shapes) is to be sure that we line up all our parts in a way that allows for the fullest expression of the particular pose, enabling us to get the most benefit and not hurt ourselves or anyone else.

An even deeper understanding of alignment is an individual awareness of where we are and what we need. This means that even though the teacher might cue a particular alignment, our individual energy and experience may require an adjustment. This level of alignment requires the student to practice discernment, to trust themselves to know what they need and to honor that need.

Another quality of alignment we practice in yoga is “union” or mindfulness, which simply means making an effort to have our mind, body, and heart in the same space at the same time. We are conscious of our body, our breath, our thoughts and emotions. We cultivate a quality of curiosity about our experience and generate a sense of compassion. We show up for ourselves. We don’t abandon ourselves. We are integrated and whole, making space for whatever might arise as we practice, and not judging any of it as “good” or “bad,” not judging ourselves as good or bad. The intention is if we are fully present, all our parts, and we approach our experience with curiosity and compassion, that we can learn to be with whatever shows up, respond with wisdom and skillful means, and that this will serve us both on and off the mat, enable us to be of service to others.

I’m trying to find this sort of alignment in my life off the mat, (off the cushion, off the page, off the leash). I tend to lean towards the dark, the difficult in life. I’ve always been that way. When people around me were clinging to the positive trying to keep themselves afloat, I was diving down into the deep asking “yeah, but what about this?” As an introverted Highly Sensitive Person, if there is suffering it is incredibly difficult for me to ignore it. I’m completely open and vulnerable, like a sponge, completely porous. I naturally have a much lower tolerance for engaging with the world because of this, and yet I also am driven to connect and to help.

For a lot of years, my boundaries weren’t great. I worked a people intensive and demanding job at a university for two decades, I was a teacher on and off that campus holding space for people working with hard stuff, and was in a series of harmful relationships with difficult people, experiencing trauma on a daily basis. All of this lead to a pretty significant state of burnout. Add to that recent events — the impeachment trial, the SOTU (where Rush Limbaugh was awarded a Medal of Freedom), DTs behavior at the National Prayer Breakfast, what happened to this sweet little girl, and a person I love whose addiction is spiraling out of control — and I feel completely and utterly overwhelmed. I internalize all the stink and the shit, hold it, carry it around, all that sad, all that anger, and at some point it gets too heavy and the only options are to collapse under the weight of it, let it bury me, or to put it down and walk away, to heal, to restore, to get strong enough to try again.

So I’m trying to shift my focus for now. In no way do I intend to swing the other way and start practicing toxic positivity. I’m not burying my head in the sand or ignoring what’s happening, but I am turning the volume down — which in and of itself is an expression of my privilege, that I can choose to engage or not, that much of the suffering happening in the world isn’t part of my direct daily experience unless I decide to let it in. That said, I’m tuning in to where I’m at and what I need, working to trust and honor myself, approaching my experience with curiosity and compassion so that I can learn to be with whatever shows up, respond with wisdom and skillful means and hopefully in this way be able to help.

 

Thoughts on Practice

My meditation shrine

My meditation shrine

I realized the other day that when cultivating a new practice, an essential thing to remember is to not make it a big deal. What I mean is sometimes your rules and restrictions about what you think your practice is supposed to be are based on what you know about long time, serious practitioners, and a whole set of internalized “shoulds.” In this way, rather than easing into things, you make it a big deal and set the bar too high.

For example, with meditation, you might feel like you have to have the “right” meditation tools (cushions, shrine, timers, etc.) and that at the start you should be meditating for long sessions. These intentions in the beginning end up becoming obstacles rather than support. You wait until you can afford the “right” tools, spend hours researching and talking about the practice and the tools but not actually doing anything, or you sit for one session of half an hour one day and immediately the next day are too busy and can’t manage sitting for that long so you skip it altogether.

I could write a whole book about cultivating a practice. In fact, I probably will. What I’m thinking about today in particular is how we get in our own way when we want to start, turn it into a big deal that ends up tanking the whole thing, AND how after we establish our practice, there is a natural shift to taking it seriously, which can look a whole lot like “making it a big deal.” What I mean is while it’s good in the beginning to not worry about the specifics or put too much pressure on getting it “right,” once you are committed, it’s good to honor what you are doing in a different way.

Once a practice is in place and you’ve found your own reasons to continue, taking it seriously makes a difference. For example, when you first begin a yoga asana practice, you can do so without a mat or props or any sort of in-person interaction with a class or a teacher. There are plenty of really good free videos online, and a belt from a bathrobe makes a perfectly good yoga strap. And yet, if you’ve been practicing regularly and intend to continue, it makes sense to invest in some props and maybe even find a community in the form of a studio or specific teacher, to research the different kinds of yoga asana and regularly practice the one that resonates most with you.

So to start, don’t make it a big deal. Then when it becomes a big deal, honor it as such. And know that no matter what, it is your practice and what “honoring” it looks like is specific to you, your experience and intentions and goals — and no one else can tell you what that is. Only you know, and you can trust yourself.