I am not a PhD or psychologist, an academic, or even a physical therapist. I rather like to think myself an experience -ist. There is so much research, information, and editorial now about how yoga helps with stress, chronic illness, sleep disorders, weight loss, etc. And while it's amazing how this ancient wisdom is increasingly recognized for it's contribution to the physical and mental health of it's practitioners, this simple affirmation falls short of the reality that it takes practice. Yoga isn't a trend, but rather a life long endeavor. Deep within the complex array and often times hidden meanings of ancient yogic texts lies the simple key to unlocking the power of yoga, practice. The sanskrit word for this is Abhyasa. To be in the endeavor, the practice, of yoga, is the only way to experience it's bounty.
I often times ask my students to become experience-ists with me, to take an inventory in stillness at the beginning of class, becoming aware of and witnessing how their body feels, for example, where it might be tight or calling out "I'm a knee!!!". I ask them to then witness the quality of the breath as it is. Is it staccato and disturbed? Is it being held tight? Is it exasperated? I then ask them to tune to the mind itself. What is the quality of the mind? Is it calm, racing, agitated, joyful? I ask them to witness all these things without building a narrative, or chasing a story line.
It is in this calm state of witness, the practice of observation, that we build our awareness of our own experience. In a world where we are being bombarded with what to wear, how to feel, and what to do, when do we take responsibility for our own personal experience? How do we respond according to our own weather so to speak?
The practice of yoga, of awareness, is what ultimately helps us attune to the deeper rhythms that life presents and helps us build the clarity of seeing with which to best respond to what is being experienced.
So now back to this gorgeous tree.... Do you think this tree came to be it's radiant full expression by reading how to be a tree? I know silly question, but let's imagine this for a moment. Instead of analyzing how to be tree, this tree actually experienced a life of seed to sprout, of reaching through and moving soil, of expanding upward seeking light, and then shedding bark, shrinking in inclement weather, honing specific and efficient use of energy and resources to then blooming in it's more copious days of abundant rain, sunshine and well being. Sitting still on this hilltop having experienced sun, wind, and rain, what remains in the present moment is a testament to the real experiences this tree has been through. And so with our easy access and capability to know many subjects, is it possible that we forget that life is revealed in the living of it?
I believe technology is amazing (in fact I'm writing this whole piece on my iphone right now after having taken this picture). But it also gives us access to a plethora of information potentially creating psycho-emotional responses disproportionate to the information itself, without the presence of the real stimulus. We have become disassociated from contact with real things; the taste of an apple as opposed to a picture or description of it. You don't actually know what an apple tastes like unless you eat it right?
Yoga teaches me to practice tasting life as it presents itself. To discern what is real, from the unreal. Through the tools of yoga; physical practice, breath regulation, meditation, witness consciousness; we practice to experience life in it's juicy presence and respond accordingly.
So really.. just be still and see clearly what IS, like the tree on the hill, so that you will respond to the comings and goings of life in ways that allow you to constantly grow and reach, and at times, shore up and conserve; all within the natural flow of what life is offering.