Indira: After spending considerable amounts of time in silence, stillness, and meditation, what role does asana and movement play in your life?
Chris: In my case, as a student of Buddhism and meditation for almost fifteen years, my “yoga” for a long time consisted of one pose (sitting) and my relationship to movement was limited to the subtleties of breath awareness, feelings, and fluctuations of mind. But sitting practice, or meditation in the traditional sense of cultivating a still mind, does so in part by keeping the body still. This, by default, is an immense exploration in not doing, in being. But to live in the world we must continue to develop our capacity to do, to engage others, build relationships, actively shaping our own creative investment in life through action. For me, my commitment to challenge what I perceived to be the speed, aggression, and greed of the world around me in my early twenties became an inability to really be a part of the world in an active, fully engaged way.
Indira: You and I have had some very good conversations about how to manage aversion, anger, or frustration when we catch it arising in our inner landscape. How has your asana practice changed the way that you experience so-called negative emotions?
Chris: As I continue to develop my asana practice and explore how my body and mind feel when I am moving, I realize that I can move and engage my body while staying present and aware. When strong aversion arises in the mind during yoga practice, I notice that the conditions for that aversion are often associated with heat in the body or the fact that a certain pose requires continuous effort, will, and discipline. I notice that I want to remain comfortable and the simple act of moving the body is not always comfortable. By softening around the resistance and moving deeper into the pose, or maintaining steady movement in a vinyasa sequence, what I am really softening is my resistance to uncertainty while gradually strengthening my own allegiance toward action, effort, engagement, doing. I am literally “moving” deeper into my life, breaking a long-standing habitual pattern and tendency toward observation over action, while strengthening confidence in my ability to act in my life with intention.
Indira: Did you find that an asana or movement based practice somehow helped you to engage in the world in a richer way? To face yourself?
Chris: While it was and remains valuable for me to maintain a meditation practice, practicing asana has become an explicit exploration of a different kind of will and discipline, an active engagement with life through the body. My body has become a sort of testing ground and exploration of how to move effectively and with awareness, which is how I want to live my life. Asana practice has begun to reveal some of my most deeply rooted, unconscious habitual patterns, all of which seem to stem from a strong aversion to doing, a fear that if I engage the world too much, I will get swept away by its speed and confusion and disconnection.
Indira: The disconnection and speed of the world seem to me to be a symptom of our inability to sit with discomfort rather than a cause of that discomfort. In what sense do mindfulness and the path of yoga get to the root of dukha, suffering?
Chris: I have become familiar with how this tradition and way of practicing is helpful in developing insight into the causes and conditions of dissatisfaction – the nuances of personal preference and the minutia of desire revealed as a self that is constantly caught up in moving toward or away from life circumstances, either through avoiding unpleasant experiences or trying to create and hold onto pleasant experiences. One benefit of this practice and the gradual understanding it affords is the softening and opening of the heart, a natural result of acceptance, and a process that gives rise to wholesome mind states such as gratitude, generosity, kindness, and joy.
Indira: What kind of potential does a mindfulness practice hold for yoga teachers?
Chris: Most people who are interested in practicing or teaching yoga would benefit from more experience in meditation, particularly in the west where we are predisposed to constant movement. It is important that as practitioners we use our practice to create balance, otherwise our practice can become a way to solidify habitual tendencies and avoid discomfort. This is a sure way to perpetuate aversion, attachment and delusion. But if we are to understand yoga properly and use it to become free, we must be willing to face ourselves through experiences that challenge deeply ingrained patterns, even when some of our strengths may be associated with those some patterns.
Indira: Thank you Chris for your honesty and the depth of your sharing. Chris and I will be co-teaching The Heart of Practice: A Mindfulness Immersion
Move and the way will open. – Zen proverb