Saturday, 18 May 2013

Paying Attention to Yoga

Harnessing Your Inner Peace
     I see so many posts about Yoga and it reminds me of its power. I used to practise it very strictly. Every morning I'd do the sun salutations. My body was buzzing, my mind was still. It set me up for the day and I found I was able to cope physically and emotionally in a way that I now realize is harder when my spiritually physical routine is out of sorts!

     When Yoga comes up in conversation it often becomes a debate whether Yoga is for your mind or for your body. When you practise Yoga it's a natural progression that your body gains strength. The discipline involved in holding the postures creates this strength. Although it's true to say Yoga strengthens your body it's actually a case of using Yoga to strengthen your body for your mind!

The Inner Landscape

     Yoga creates the body that allows you to still your mind. I recently had a wrist injury that has now prevented me from doing any sort of physical Yoga. It's been about three months and I've missed it. I felt that my inner peace must surely suffer as a result. I still meditate. My meditation practice doesn't seem to have suffered so much as I imagined it would.

     I'm not a very visual person so I have a problem with the blank screen when I close my eyes to meditate. For some reasons I even have a problem with half closed eyes focusing on the image of my nostrils as the entry and exit point of my breath. If I need to understand something I'm much better hearing instructions. I don't get visual jokes but give me a pun or an aural joke and I'll most likely get it. So it's been a struggle for me to reach a stage where I can concentrate on inner stillness. It still helps me to go to a beautiful coastline and contemplate but recently I've been working on the art of attention.

     I love sitting on a beach or a cliff top, gazing at the sea, breathing deeply and feeling the relaxation pouring into my body. With attention the brief moment of contemplation has a much more enduring effect.

     If I sit somewhere like the landscape in the photo above, a stretch of coastline between Kinsale and Clonakilty in Ireland, I pay attention to every little detail I can see. Taking one small portion at a time I observe it. Then I close my eyes and recreate it in as much detail as I can in my mind. In all likelihood I'll catch myself mentally instructing my subconscious how to create the picture. All the time, however, I try to add a little bit more detail. I keep going until I can almost recreate the whole scene as accurately as possible. The result is a relaxed and focused mind, empty of all the other clutter. My attention is on the one thing I want to attend to.

Still Yoga

     People mistakenly believe that meditation is about drifting off. On the contrary, it's about paying even more attention: to your surroundings; to the little creaks and cracks; to the buzzing of your mind. You need to observe the physical pains come and go. Listen to the chatter come and then fade away. It takes practice. The fact that I practised physical Yoga for so long means that my body is used to sitting still in the same position without complaint. It also means that I have the basis for the mental exercises of meditation for which it's really intended.

     Using the exercise of recreating a scene in your head is another way of focusing your attention. Introductions to meditation often start with focusing on your breath. But it's hard to focus on your breath because it's not dynamic enough to say to your brain "Hey! We've got a job to do here! Pay attention!" I suppose that's one of the advantages of holding poses. You have to concentrate on your posture. This is where the focus lies. Your Yoga practice becomes a meditation in itself.

     When the ability to do physical postures is taken away temporarily, however, then you have to find an alternative way of focusing. This visualization technique is the answer for me.

Saluting the Sun

     It's obviously my intention to get back to a daily Yoga routine. When I do I'll return to the same sun salutations I used to do before. I'll continue to chant the mantras I enjoy so much because they provide the aural modality that I need. In addition I recognize that the physical side of Yoga creates so many health benefits such as weight loss, flexibility and boosting the immune system.

     It's important to remember, however, that just as we can think ourselves into illness, we can also think ourselves into fitness and health with the right kind of positive and empowering mindset.

     I have a renewed faith in what I'm doing with Yoga and meditation. Before it was the case that I felt I had to do the Yoga in order to be able to meditate. Now that I've had this enforced break I find that all the practice has resulted in a firm foundation to be able to focus during meditation.