Hi Yogis! Today’s Post is From the Fabulous Kathleen Reynolds!
“How I Got Into College” is a mediocre movie from 1989 that tells the story of Jessica, the all-around high school superstar, and Marlon, the classic underachiever who’s enamored with Jessica, and each’s attempt to gain admission into the selective Ramsey College. Jessica’s struggles the expectations for her to follow family tradition and attend the big state university. And Marlon, whose sole reason for wanting to attend Ramsey is to follow Jessica, struggles with, well, everything that would be expected for acceptance: his grades are subpar, his SAT scores abysmal, and his only apparent extra-curricular activity is a less-than-impressive juggling hobby. The movie is also peppered with scenes involving two imaginary characters, “A” and “B.” who act out SAT mathematical word problems associated with the stress-inducing choices Marlon faces in the midst of his college-application process.
But Marlon’s got something to his advantage: that quirky, “think outside of the box,” endearing personality, which of course, is the magic bullet for all underdogs in 80’s romantic comedies. It is they, not the popular, rich jock with the pastel sweater tied around his neck, who in the end, get the girl and realize all their dreams, too. I mean, even Pretty in Pink’s original ending had Andie and Duckie ending up together, not Andie and Blaine (curse those test audiences!)
The admission’s process doesn’t go as smoothly for Jessica as she imagined. Everything perfect-on-paper Jessica’s done ends up mirroring so many others’ high GPA-holding, classical-instrument playing, class president profiles. Jessica’s self-image (not to mention future plans based on it) are shattered, and she decides not to apply to Ramsey after all. Marlon convinces her to change her mind — but it’s nearly the deadline, and they have to drive to the campus, Jessica typing her application on a word processor in the passenger seat en route, as Marlon speeds along so they can break into the admission’s office and slip her application through the slot. (Stacks of paper submitted in large manilla envelopes and physically delivered to individual colleges? No online form and instant “submit” button? I never said the film aged well).
On their way to “beat the clock,” they calculate how fast they will need to drive. Unfortunately, they get stuck behind a police cruiser whose slower speed skews their plan. Driving behind them is word-problem “A” character in a Lamborghini. Jessica’s stresses as she realizes they won’t make the deadline and insists they must find a way to drive faster. And then Marlon throws a curve-ball: he suggests slowing-down instead. Jessica, is of course, bewildered: how will going slower solve the problem? But Marlon reduces speed, “A” behind them loses patience and passes Marlon’s car recklessly at full-speed – which, of course, gets him nailed by the police officer who pulls him over, thus removing that obstacle in Marlon’s and Jessica’s journey and allowing them to regain lost time.
One topic of much interest and debate in online yoga world has been asana. It goes without saying by now that asana (or whatever physical forms that have been equated with that particular limb) has for man become synonymous with all that yoga means. On the subject of “yoga poses,” so much of what we find online are either images of yogi’s voguing for selfies (and I share selfies too, so I won’t tread into judgement territory here) or instruction on how to assume (or challenge oneself to contort one’s body into, as the case may be) the prescribed shapes commonly associated with modern postural yoga. Being “good” or advanced at yoga has come to mean being able to perfect poses, or at least to progress to deeper versions of dream poses.
This is, indeed a trend, but I must say that all of the practitioners I am blessed to know at Allay Yoga and beyond do not hold up the physical part of the practice as an end in and of itself — or even as a means to an end. In fact, in my role as a yoga teacher (and I explicitly use the little “y” to self-describe but also feel joyfully blessed), I would doubt any regular students who attend my classes are really coming for the asana in itself, though given the effects our modern lifestyles on our bodies, the physical practice no doubt provides great benefits.
So, “that thing” that calls us to our practice — beyond perfecting alignment, moving toward more “advanced” postures, or even reaping therapeutic benefit to our bodies — is what may most deeply drive our intentions to continue our practices — if we arrive each time with open eyes and humble hearts. And it is our continued practice in this manner — which includes continual learning, while seeing our selves more clearly and surrendering to changes that will best serve us — that takes us further along paths. Hey, we may get into that dream pose anyway — but like Jessica and Marlon, our perspective switches: stripping away those layers of who we “thought” we had to be and what we “should” be working toward, we slow down and open ourselves to new ways of addressing challenges. Marlon is wise indeed, no?😉
In addition to being surrounded by a beautiful and inspiring yoga community, I also feel fortunate that teaching connects me to a vast, amazing, and humbling (in the best sense of the word) array of wisdom and perspectives offered by those within the larger, global yoga community. And their are some truly great minds with extensive knowledge who are delving into the roots of asana through research into physical practices within ancient devotional disciplines, contemporary and social-political influences on the practice, and so much more. Scratching the surface of information on just this one limb is both fascinating and overwhelming — and this is not even to mention all that’s offered up beyond asana-centered discussion (a drop in the deep ocean of Dharma).
Back to asana, one of the most frequently cited references is, of course, its description from the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali.
The point here is that asana’s significance (and it certainly is significant) did not have a particular form — much less a prescriptive process for assuming the “seat.” The qualities were of import: one needed to assume a comfortable and firm seat in order to practice Dharana (intense focus of the mind) without distraction of the body. Dharana precedes what happens in Dhyana (the state of meditation) and finally Samadhi (bliss or oneness).
So what’s a modern practitioner – whose practice has been primarily asana-based -to take from this? Well, if my opinion means anything (and I make no assumption that it does), I would first offer this recommendation: don’t despair that the approach you’ve taken is an either/or or has been “wrong” as opposed to doing things the “right” way. Even among the most informed scholars and devoted practitioners, there is inevitably much disagreement as to prescriptives. And our lifestyles as householders in 2015 must be taken into account.
To be clear, I am not open to an “anything goes” approach to the practice, nor do I advocate that one grasp onto just any such advice that guarantees gratification or promises some type of ambiguously-defined transformation — and that happens to use the word “yoga” within its specific selling point. If anything, my own tendency would be to recommend doing whatever seems most dissimilar to either. Though I am usually loathe to given unsolicited advice (my husband would certainly contradict me to this effect), I will offer up the following (which may be considered fairly obvious advice by many, in any case):
First, instead of thinking you need to ‘switch gears,” approach your practice within its already existing structure. You can find so much beauty and joy by exploring the depth and variation available within the same sequence or structure which you are most familiar. This, of course, doesn’t mean that you need to “move deeper” into a posture physically. Instead, start on your mat with an intention to be open to whatever arises. If your focus has been on “mastering” a particular posture, let go of the effort toward that end and set an intention to stay with your breath — come back to the breath again and again, and allow your breath to begin each movement you make. That may mean you find yourself slowing to Child’s Pose when you would normally launch into a Vinyasa. What challenge and liberation are found in switching gears.
If you are used to practicing regularly with a beloved teacher, you can set an intention to assume a beginner’s mindset and simply open your practice to following their basic cues as they are given. We can become so used to hearing a specific teacher’s voice that we become less mindful of the present moment and our connection to moving in synchronicity with the whole experience — instead of “tuning in,” we may “tune out” and move mechanically rather than intentionally. It is amazing what give-and-take occurs in a class when students and the teacher begin by accepting the special transfer of energy between, among and throughout the class.
Finally, connect your practice toward the a goal of self-realization by integrating a home practice into your routine. A shift toward the introspective in a solitary practice space can be powerful many respects. And before you stop reading this and become overwhelmed with the idea of adding a home practice — yet “one more thing to do” — into your daily schedule: no worries…literally. If your home-practice starts by taking a few deep breaths anywhere you happen to be alone — perhaps even focusing on the exhalation and breathing out any guilt or insecurities you feel about not maintaining a “home practice” — you’ve done it.
Finally, along these lines, I’ll transition to an announcement about a 30-Day Meditation Non-Challenge. The idea behind this is that we approach the new by doing an action without expecting a particular result from it (even the result of stressing about whether we’ve completed our practice for all 30 days). This Non-Challenge will be open to the Allay community and beyond and will run from June 15th through July 15th. There is no cost to participate, only a willingness to be open to the new. No prior yoga or meditation experience is required or expected. For more information, visit Kathleen online at: http://lookingglasshouseyoga.com/upcoming-teaching-schedule/meditationnonchallenge/ or email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org