Symphonic Resonance -a sound produced by a body vibrating in sympathy with a neighboring source of sound or vibration.
In recent classes I have talked about symphonic resonance. A trio of violins played at the same note causes a fourth violin to carry the same note, without being played by a human hand. Energy carries vibration. This vibration travels and affects the surrounding space. The surrounding space that is shared by bodies (or in this case a violin) becomes changed by this energy source.
Settling into their positions, ready to apply themselves to their yoga practices, students assemble mats and rapidly close out the last of their conversations with one another while I take my place at the front of the class and prepare to teach. Grateful for the interested group of students before me, I wonder what words to choose to set the tone for the day’s class.
On this day I feel swept away by with the bombardment of news coverage and circus-like circumstances that pop up during an election year. I consider how difficult it is for our own community to feel peaceful and in touch with their deeper authentic beings when it seems that right from the top, the very leadership and vying potential future leadership duking it out to guide and shape our country down it’s due course are at times caught up in dirty politics, accusations, self serving agendas and an overall wavering from peacefulness and authenticity. Could yoga ever make an impact so far reaching that one day even our media and politicians could act from the foundations of yoga? Could the symphonic resonance of yoga impact our larger conduct even at the top?
From my own personal conflicts I have experienced over the years, internal struggles deserving of deeper investigations arise. Without taking the time in my yoga practice on and off the mat, I have seen how these internal imbalanced states can lead to behavioral and emotional patterns that further the discontent and suffering that I (and those close to me) are affected by. Without having the skills afforded me by my yoga practice to organize the patterns in a way that I can then just simply “sit” with, all hell breaks loose. My life experiences as well as my experience of “Self” seem to quickly become unstable and chaotic. It is in these states that more suffering, fear and anxiety seem to sprout up all around until despair settles in. Learning to use these moments for deep personal insight have the opportunity to find transformation, and ultimately gives freedom from these patterns of suffering. Turning to the philosophies of yoga and working towards adapting a lifestyle in tune with the moral and ethical observations of the codes of conduct (yamas and niyamas) supports peace and equanimity within and without our beings. Building a yoga practice might start with taking that first step onto a mat, but quickly reveals that the journey has just begun.
CHITTAM, (chit-tom), refers to the the mind and its activities. The minute that we sit down on the yoga mat and settle into our practice, the body begins to still. After just a few moments, our eyes dart around the room, we look at the clock, we look at other practitioners. We wonder if this really is the "best" spot in the room or is there another spot that would be better. We think about the sounds coming from the other students (that man behind me will just will NOT stop talking...how much caffeine did he have today...did I leave the coffee pot on this morning?...I should really switch to tea...or coconut water...shoot, I forgot my water bottle in my car...maybe I should get some water now, what if I get really thirsty in this class?.... This is an example of the mind activities in just the 3 minutes before class. Not just todays class, but yesterdays class, all of the classes we've ever taken. How do we liberate ourselves from this current of mental swirlings that make it so hard to stay present, really present?
We can start by using the mindful internal reflection on the breath. The breath reveals to us when we are in balance as well as when we have lost our equilibrium. Our equilibrium is a state of rest or balance due to the equal action of opposing forces. If our body is riddled with tension, toxins, and dis-ease we will not find ease in the mind. If the mind is not in a place of ease we can not begin to connect to the spirit within ourselves. If we can not connect to the spirit within ourselves, we can not connect to the spirit of others. If we can not connect to the spirit of others, we truly are alone.
Staying connected the the sacred inner space cultivated in a yoga practice gives us the context in which to explore larger questions. Who am I? What is my life's higher purpose? How can I reach that place that allows my being to experience the interconnection with the large cosmic webs that joins us all?
Each day, each practice session, each breath, each moment is how we establish ourselves on our paths that take on such a journey. Tuning in to our deeper intelligence and drawing the senses inwardly helps us to bring steadiness to the mind and stillness to the cittam.
May your practice bring peace within and without ~ basil
Sit. Relax the body. Relax the mind. Be as still as possible.
Sit comfortably, with the spine upright and supported and the head balanced naturally, looking forward with eyes closed gently. It's ok to sit on a chair, or on the floor, on the knees or cross legged with support, such as a pillow. The body must become still and remain still for a period of time for the mind to start to calm down and deeper states of awareness to be experienced. With practice, prolonged stillness can be achieved without discomfort. Any mindfulness meditation technique will require some discipline and perseverance to get the results.
Do not attempt to control your thoughts. The more we try to control thoughts, the stronger they become. Observe the breath with passive awareness. Observe the thoughts, feelings and sensations with compassion and tolerance. Don’t engage your thoughts by judging or analyzing them. Let them arise and dissolve, like clouds drifting across a blue sky, noting what comes with passive curiosity, and return to the breath.
Let the breath be natural and gentle. Breathe through the nose, letting the belly rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale. Soften the belly. Let the chest rise last, filling up from the belly first, like a vessel filling with water. The importance of attention to breath cannot be over-emphasized. It is the central key to any mindfulness meditation technique. So much suffering could be alleviated simply by placing mindful attention on the breath, focusing on the belly, or the area of the heart. Within the breath is the key to your greater Self. Emotion can reside in the body as chronic tension. The breath can undo this tension, and restore balance and peace to the mind. We forget the breath most of the time. Experiment throughout your day. See if you can count the number of times you remember to watch your breath. You may be surprised to realize how difficult it is to remember.
When we feel pain -- physically or emotionally -- we tend to react by tensing up. This tension causes the pain to be sustained longer. Sustained pain is what we call "suffering." The practice of non-resistance is another core principle of mindfulness meditation. Letting go with each breath. Sometimes I see beginning meditators making effort to relax and let go. They breathe out with great force, through pursed lips, as if getting ready to lift a heavy weight. This is not true letting go. True letting go is effortless.
Why is it so difficult to remember the breath?
Because staying connected to the breath loosens the grip of the ego. The ego is the constellation of thoughts, emotions, and self-images that we cling to at all costs, in an effort to sustain our personal identity and importance. The breath leads us into an expanded state of Self-awareness that can feel like the death of what was known as "self." So we resist because of our attachment -- our fear of letting go -- fear of the unknown. It is a fear of becoming nothing. This fear is usually quite unconscious, yet it affects everything we do and feel, keeping us imprisoned by the invisible chains of the mind.
My intention, always, is that we can learn something about ourselves as spiritual beings through our practices in yoga. If we can see the body as a gateway to get to the deeper essence of our being, the body becomes a tool for tremendous growth that is possible for everyone. If we see the body as something to manipulate in order to satisfy our own vanity and ego, the body disparagingly becomes more material matter that hinders our growth.
For most of us, the experience of addressing these larger issues within during our yoga practice isn't exactly smooth sailing. There are days when the message being transmitted is, "How is this practice ON the mat affording me an opportunity to see my true self OFF the mat?" We may even start to see that if this practice is going to serve us well, then we need to be able to connect to ourselves not just when we are "being yogic" on the mat, but we also need to understand the dimensions of our being that consist of blockages that prevent the transmission of this higher understanding to reach into our everyday lives.
Patanjali tells us that there are 5 major disturbances of the mind. These disturbances of the mind all stem form the main disturbance, which is Avidya, or incorrect perception of who we really are. Through excessive focus on the material things, it's easy to sway from where our true center is. We've reached for something outside of ourselves to try and find peace inside our being. The inner compass becomes buried deeper, and on we are to the next distraction. It's not difficult to see the pattern of disappointment that will inevitably ensue when we continue searching for lasting sustenance from fleeting cravings.
Having the resolve to stay present and committed to our yoga practice can allow us to ground ourselves in these times. By redirecting awareness inwardly in yoga asana we not only make the body more flexible and toned, but we also clear the body and mind of impurities and toxins that take us away from moving into the higher seat of own souls. The practice of asana teaches us to go beyond the body and lessen our fixation on seeing the body (material) as a complete reality. In other words, we start to bring awareness inwards back to its source and recognize our true Selves. When we can recognize this truth in ourselves, we can be open to recognize the truth and greatness in one another with clarity. Creating a practice grounded in deeper understanding of this higher and greater Self frees us from the bondage of Avidya, bringing a wave of peace and positivity to our interconnected lives.
You've made it to the mat (congrats!), managed to beat the rush to the bathroom, you've even grabbed the coveted space by the window overlooking the creek and the horse trails...waiting for class to begin. Instead of wondering if you've locked the car, turned the phone off, or chosen the right tank for the class try taking the time to be present with your breath.
Your breath becomes the most valuable tool in your practice by helping to firmly establish the mind-body connection. Without the breath, the mind is like a wild horse pulling a chariot with nobody holding the reins, says Swami Satchidananda in his commentaries on the yoga sutras. Take the time settle in, focus energy inwards, and witness the movement of your breath. What is your breath communicating about the way you feel in your body? About your present emotional state?
Begin to draw the breath down towards the bottom of the lungs as you inhale, completely filling the lungs, and then sit with the pause that just follows your inhale. This crucial moment (kumbhaka) is the soul's journey outwards. Begin to slowly release the breath, in the reverse order, emptying the lungs from the top all the way down to the navel center. Hold the air outside the body (rechaka). This represents the soul's return journey back to center. Repeat.
By engaging in this central pranayama practice you help facilitate the distribution of prana to the vital organs and through the energetic centers in the body. Your body will release tension and toxins more efficiently, leaving you feeling grounded and ready for your practice.
On The Path: Cultivating Space for Your Yoga Practice
The number one reason I hear for people not practicing yoga is...can you guess? It's not that the person thinks she is too old or too inflexible, it's not that he has a bad back or is intimidated being around a room full of mostly women, but it's that there "isn't enough time". Sound familiar? You're far from the only one if you're thinking "yes".
The thing is, committing to our yoga practices keeps us facing the very things about our beings that can free us from our own suffering. Making at least two yoga dates with yourself each week can be the start of creating lasting wellness and discipline in your life. Setting wellness goals in your yoga practice that are not affected by life's irregularities can keep you more stable and grounded when you need it. Finding a time and a class that has a vibe that elevates your being are crucial to connect to. Your regular attendance motivates those around you and can even build a stronger sense of community and belonging in your life.
The other favorite that I hear from people, is that they've been away from their practice and are worried that their body will be a little out of shape and will suffer from aches and pains. This brings back comical memories of when I used to have housekeeper and the realized I'd get into a panic about cleaning for the house cleaner! The very reason we practice is to stave off the more dire aches and pains associated with inertia like atrophied muscles and arthritic joints. Of course your body will ache a bit when you wake up muscles that have become neglected and even forgotten about over time! This should be no more than the feeling of having a good workout (because you just did in your practice) or having a run that took you on some challenging terrain.
By cultivating space for your yoga practice, new patterns of wellness are created in your life. Patterns that benefit your body, your mind, and your energetic being. By facing your personal obstacles and not making any more excuses, you've made moves to let go of the major toxic stressors in life, the ego.