A blog post for the creatively maladjusted Rebelle Society. Postulating bodly that yoga is not about controlling your self or the world around you but rather to reveal the absence of any boundary between them.
full text below:
“You can not always control what goes on outside. But you-can always control what goes on inside.”
These words were printed in white on top of a photo…
The photo of a stunningly beautiful woman standing in the centre of a busy street. With traffic roaring around her she looks directly into my eyes while balancing in a rather impressive yoga posture (ardha baddha padmottanasana).
The picture magnetizes the gaze. The text printed above her head shines in clear, white letters.
“Cool,” said my friend who reading over my shoulder. “Can you teach me that?” Now that question requires a yoga teacher to choose her words carefully.
“Not a chance,” I said.
I cannot teach students to control “what goes on inside” so that they won’t be disturbed by “what goes on outside.” Practicing and teaching yoga has stripped me of any impulse to do so. Let me explain:
Most (not all) people who try yoga decide to come back because the practice gives them a good sensation in the body. A glimpse of something weightless, a relief of some sort. Many students have shared with me their occasional experience of their body as a soft, warm presence in which they can’t really tell left from right, top from bottom, floor from body, inside from outside.
Photo credit: Ditte Capion Damgaard
A common beginning to this is not being able to feel the exact position of your hands when lying in savasana, and sometimes it can feel like the whole of the body loses its boundaries or leak out into a fuzzy, aliveness: A warm softness not similar to the one we experience at the brink of sleep. Some get it when sitting I stillness on their cushion, a few experience it in active posture practice. A gap in the experience of distinguishing between sensations a blurring of sensation not unlike that of drifting down into sleep.
It’s nothing in particular, really. It’s rather the opposite of feeling anything in particular.
Practicing yoga with sensitivity (what I like to call ahimsa), seems to allow the body to go quiet and thereby invites the mind to take a rest from separating sand and distinguishing. If your posture practice creates no hard, noisy, painful sensations it becomes an invitation to soft quietness. Not just in savasansa, meditation or supported chilled out postures. It can happen if you become comfortable in dog pose, trikonasana, tadasana and it can come off the mat with you.
If there is no struggle, meaning that the body has been patiently prepared over time to enter the pose with integrity, yoga posture practice doesn’t feel like anything in particular.
When the body goes quiet, the mind’s ability to distinguish between what is going on “inside” and what is going on “outside” is invited to loosen its grip for a moment. This experience is not difficult or complicated, requires no faith or spiritual ability. Most of us don’t even realize that it’s happening at first. Often people just think it was a moment of sleep and discard it as distraction.
But through the years I’ve come to the conclusion that it is nothing like sleep. Feeling that you’ve been “gone” for a moment even while standing on your feet or sitting on your cushion or lying in savasana is not necessarily a detour. I’d like to suggest it’s a mini-break from inside/outside distinctions.
By this kind of experience, yoga has to me become a journey that reveals the inseparability of my being from everything else.
From my mat I get a peek into a different context, in which my daily experience of things in particular is immersed into wholeness. To be sure, this is not a religious experience or a transcendental state. I’m not becoming whole through yoga. I’m not being united with something divine, I have not entered a Great Beyond. I have not gone beyond the body.
If there is any beyond, it’s going beyond the very notion of a boundary between body and world. The revelation that I am by nature inseparable from everything around me. The recognition that I was born whole and need no completion.
From that perspective, no control is necessary, no guarding of a boundary between “inside” and “outside” is needed. Sometimes it’s just a glimpse, other times it goes on and on, and sometimes I´m not feeling it at all. When it happens it happens spontaneously and cannot be induced or commanded. I just keep going to the mat without looking for anything in particular.
Going back to the photo of the woman in the busy street—I like to think that she magnetizes our gaze because she exudes that state of feeling “nothing in particular”—of wholeness. I’d like to suggest that the peace in her eyes did not come because she learned to forget about the world around her. By contrast, she seems to have forgotten her Self.
Experiencing the world without struggling to defend a boundary around herself, letting life flow through her full force without resistance. That, I hope, is what makes her beautiful. We cannot take our eyes off her in the same way we cannot help but smile when a baby looks us right in the face.
Photo courtesy: Birgitte Gorm Hansen
Because we already know it.
We all carry the infant memory of how it is to live without erecting boundaries, to have zero point zero resistance to reality, to trust life. Because you are born whole, there is basically nothing you need to optimize, nothing you need to defend, nothing extra you need to acquire you to be 100% okay with this very world.
There is no higher power with which you should strive to unite, no better version of yourself that you need to become.
Just the wholeness that is your natural state when the activity of distinguishing and controlling loses its grip a little. The place where your sense, live and act beyond the boundary is always available in the life you live here and now. Some find this presence without ever having set foot on a yoga mat. Others need a consistent practice to enquire into what we most deeply are.
As a teacher of this approach to yoga the answer has to be an unflinching: Not a chance.
I have no impulse to teach yoga as a discipline by which to gain control of what goes on inside and shut out what goes on outside. For me yoga is an enquiry into the possibility that that separateness is only a temporary, practical measure. That the self/other boundary is hand luggage: Good to carry when our survival is at risk but not necessary to defend or control when safe on the mat. I´d like to teach yoga as a dropping into the living ocean of wholeness.
“Uhm… okay,” said my friend after that tirade. “That’s all very interesting. Eh, but I was actually just asking if you could teach me how to get my legs into that ardha baddha-lotus-thing that the girl in the photo is doing. Id really like to be able to balance on my toes like that, It looks über cool! Can you teach me that?”
“Yeah. No problem.”