Yoga from the Neck Down
not caring if I injure myself
or look like an expert yogini to others.
Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral
like relatives knocking on the door.
Let me in or I’ll blow your house down!
Tensing against or bowing,
allowing in each asana,
opening the door to the heart
knowing I can always say
no thank you
when it doesn’t feel safe,
when metta for the one who is breathing
is yet to be known and named.
In yoga class we welcomed parts of ourselves that felt separate, unwanted, like an orphan abandoned by disturbed parents. I embraced Sadness, a child left behind by circumstances and raised with the South Asian conditioning of honoring family over the individual. Add on a chatty Buddhist inner critic, and I was sure to blame myself when things went ‘wrong’ with others.
In Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods, Ajahn Sucitto asks, “Does your energy come from interest and aspiration, from willingness of heart? Or is it caught up with trying to climb the wrong mountain?” When thoughts and feelings are directing an unpleasant interaction, it’s tempting to believe the story movie mind is projecting. I can’t tell you how often I’ve replayed scenarios, wasting precious energy and time trying to create Leave It to Beaver, Brady Bunch, Family Ties episodes or Facebook videos to replace the ones that are actually happening. How can this being (who is a mindfulness ‘expert’) fail so royally at fixing things. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough.
I decided to try something different in class today, to practice yoga from the neck down. If unpleasant sensations arose, I didn’t jump to the conclusion that an irreparable injury was imminent. When feeling strong and grounded in a pose, I didn’t assume the pose was perfect and everlasting. If nothing was calling for immediate attention, then a river of breath became the object of awareness as it meandered though the body and surrounding landscape.
These sensations felt like relatives, sometimes perceived as The Big Bad Wolf, physically and energetically knocking on the door to this body and heart. My tendency has been one of two extremes: barricading the door with everything I’ve got or opening wide and completely losing balance. What would it mean to fully appreciate the tensing against or bowing and allowing in each asana (pose)?
Sucitto writes, “We can never arrive at the imagined perception, but we always experience the results of our intentions. So the important thing is to examine, clarify and stay in touch with our intentions — not our imagined goals.” I can now make space for Sadness in my life, showering her with loving presence and the promise that I will never abandon her. She is key to understanding life’s sinusoidal pattern, that the distance between peak and trough is shorter when intentions are known and implemented.
May I be patient and kind.
May I listen to understand.
I have the right to retreat from unpleasant conversation when I don’t feel safe.
At first glance, these intentions may sound like they are for others. But when I read them again and listen internally, I can sense what is needed externally, knowing I can always say, “No thank you” when it doesn’t feel safe, when metta for the one who is breathing is yet to be known and named.
This isn’t Leave It to Beaver, Brady Bunch, Family Ties episodes or Facebook videos. It’s Real Life, and I want to participate fully, asking, investigating. What happens when I try to control things? What happens when I let go?
What happens when the energy of wise intention and discernment is implemented?