The head, the hands, and the heart
In a surprise 2022 twist, I teach a regular yoga class in Bali.
My home for most of the last year - Ubud - is a world center of yoga; where people come from around the world to learn from some of the world’s best yoga teachers.
In the spring, I was attending one of my regular classes when it was announced that yoga teacher trainings would soon resume. I had the privilege of time, money and space to take the course but teaching had never been an aspiration of mine.
Still, I couldn’t shake the thought that this training could be for me.
Of all the things I had experimented with in my 30s, my yoga asana practice remained with me the longest and I became more curious about the bigger map of vedic knowledge it belonged to.
At the time, I thought that at worst, I could practice my asanas intensely for 3 weeks and improve my personal practice in group settings thereafter so I signed up.
Skip forward a few months, and an invitation to teach appeared.
Again, it was an offer I couldn’t shake.
Now, a few weeks into sharing that practice with others, I am enthralled by what I notice as I teach. Taking the other perspective in the shala has granted me the space to learn how to more gracefully move through my own life.
To get it, you must first see it whether through vision in the mind or through inspiration from watching someone else.
In yoga classes, it is inspiring to see a broad variety of bodies make shapes that once seemed absurd to me.
I’ll never forget that at my first-ever yoga class, the teacher casually cued the group to move into a headstand and I laughed out loud.
I didn't think she was serious, but slowly and carefully, the people around me tipped forward into their forearms and the crowns of their heads with ease and straightened into their headstands.
I was in awe.
These people did not seem to be superhuman in any way, and yet they were doing something that I presumed only acrobats and small children could do.
It was years until I felt the weightlessness of my own headstand and it took lots of assistance and encouragement to get there.
We tend to downplay our own capacity because of a lack of imagination.
Once found, our belief can animate that vision it into something that could surprise our former selves.
They call yoga a practice, because it is never perfected.
Each day and each moment, we have different strengths and capacity to offer.
And yet, through our commitment over time, we can make incremental progress in our body to become creatures of our own design.
The hard part is to remain motivated when progress is imperceptible. Even that frustration of stagnation is an important part of the journey, as we return to our intention and continue to give effort.
Here, the Bhagavad Gita - Mahatma Gadhi's go-to spiritual manual - has an important reminder for us:
You have a right to perform your prescribed duties, but you are not entitled to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, nor be attached to inaction.
The heart has become the pop-culture stand-in for anything unseen that is felt and knowable.
“I know it in my heart” comes to mind.
Of course, it is not just our heart at work.
The way I think about the heart in yoga practice is that we are retraining our nervous system to turn effortful System 2 processes into fluid System 1 processes.
We are literally changing ourselves into the beings that are capable of new things and resetting the boundaries of what is normal for us.
That’s why yoga asana is such a great pairing for the philosophy of the vedic tradition - it is through this effortful redesign of our inner world that we are able to achieve the goals of our outer one.
I love the mini-lab of the yoga mat where we can return over a lifetime to remind ourselves that we are part of a natural process of design and re-design through our vision, effort and patience.
Marlon | Noticing Newsletter
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