A Meditation on Meditation

305983_4473619951943_132189164_nOne of the things I love the most about the style of yoga I do — that I’m now trained in — is the alignment principles upon which it’s based. They are amazingly simple when you break them down, and they make perfect sense in the body. They make every pose feel better, deeper, even easier. The best thing about them, however, is that they are more than just physical actions; they also translate mentally, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually.

I urge you to check them out or ask me more about them. They truly changed my life.

It’s been a tough few months for the Anusara community, to put it mildly. Much has been abruptly changed, knocked off-balance, destroyed. In such a situation, the only thing to do is find the center again — to focus on the practice.

I’m somehow in a place where I’m really in love with my practice and deepening it in new ways. I’ve made a few breakthroughs lately that are really exciting. I’ve been practicing more consistently with a few new teachers, even while I miss the influence of a teacher whose schedule changed and whom I don’t get to see as often. I feel like I’m kind of riding things out right now, and it actually feels good. But there’s more, and I think I’m ready to focus on something that it’s taken me a while to really look at — meditation.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and paging through Sally Kempton’s book Meditation for the Love of It, which my yogi sister lent me. I found an amazing and inspiring section about madhya, or the space between the breaths. I’m going to sit down with this book and take notes on it in my own meditation journal, and then see how I can translate what I learn into a meditation practice.

I just finished reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which, despite its reputation as an “obscene” book with shockingly dirty words in it, turns out to be pretty interesting and relevant. D.H. Lawrence feels it’s vital for men and women to find the balance between their body and mind — when it comes to sex, yes, but also in general. The society of 1928 is diseased, out of touch, and “counterfeit,” he says in his notes on the book. People are getting away from what’s important, which is connecting with themselves so that they can truly connect with others. “Life is only bearable when the mind and body are in harmony, and there is a natural balance between them, and each has a natural respect for the other,” he writes. (It reminds me of the mantra of another of my favorite writers, E.M. Forster: “Only connect.”)

Now that I’m fairly adept at finding my calm, quiet, steady center through asana, I’d like to focus on being there in meditation and really finding that balance in a new way. I’m open to advice and encouragement. And I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Fully Immersed

Our Anusara immersion ended yesterday. Sixteen of us came together with our exceptional teacher Emma Magenta for nine weekends over the course of a year. Altogether, it was 108 hours. It was a big, serious committment of time, money and effort, but one we all felt was important and managed to convince our loved ones was important.

We were all there because Anusara struck a chord with each of us, and we wanted to go deeper. It was a lot more than just a class where we took notes, or a workshop to improve our poses. Though we did learn all about the Universal Principles of Alignment that our style of yoga is based upon and did many hours of tough asana, we also studied the Tantric philosophy that makes Anusara unique. We read and discussed the Bhagavad Gita. We practiced pranayama, meditation, and kirtan. And we got to better understand how yoga touches all parts of our lives — physically, mentally, spiritually. If you’ve been a regular reader of my blog, you know that two of the Universal Principles in particular have made a major emotional impression on me: muscular energy, or creating a strong foundation by contracting and pulling in, and organic energy, or extending and shining out.

We created a kula. We went from a group of strangers — or, at most, people who’d seen one another once or twice in class — to a cohesive community, a circle of love, trust, and safety. We established strong bonds of friendship.

When I started going to South Mountain Yoga about three years ago, I knew almost immediately that Anusara was going to be significant for me. I was feeling so battered and lost, completely foundation-less. I walked in there and it felt like a haven. What I got out of it was just what I needed.

It still feels that way, and I’m a completely different person — because of all kinds of work I’ve done since then, but in large part because of my yoga. I’m as strong as I’ve ever been, physically and emotionally. I’m more comfortable in and confident about my body. I’ve found a language to understand the spiritual ideas that I already had.

It’s hard to articulate what Anusara is and why it’s special without sounding like some sort of cult member, so I try not to proselytize when my friends show an interest. I tell them that yoga is like anything else — you find the studio, teacher, and style that work for you. Of course I want them all to come do Anusara with me. But I’d love for them to come to it organically, like I did.

There’s the possibility of teacher training in the fall, and though I’ve never considered myself teacher material, I’m starting to rethink that. Good teachers are passionate about their subject. I don’t think I have the amazing gift that Emma does (that’s her front and center in the picture, in the bright blue jacket). But I’d love to help other people see what I see in Anusara, to get what I’ve gotten out of it. Whether I’m a good prospect for such an important job remains to be seen. But I’d love to learn more. So I’m thinking about it.

But I’m really going to miss having immersion weekend to look forward to. It was always so nice to know one was coming up, that I’d get to spend the weekend talking and thinking about something I love, with people I love, and doing something soothing and healing for myself. This last one was a week after my father’s memorial service, and the timing could not have been better.

One of my classmates put it this way: When we began, it was like we were in the lobby of a museum, and we were there to see an exhibit we were interested in. But it turned out the museum was huge, cavernous in fact, and there was more and more to explore. So now we’re wandering through the infinite museum of Anusara yoga.

The nicest thing about this metaphor is that even if we’re in different rooms or focusing on different exhibits, we can still meet up in the cafe. See you all there.