Friday, October 16, 2009


I'm not really that smart. More accurately, I'm dumb-smart, in that I have a mind for minutiae and a steel-trap for trivia. I'm not so quick on the uptake, however, when it comes to translating abstract yoga concepts into everyday experience.

So I greatly admire the poetry of directions like "Lift your kidneys," "Open your heart," or "Practice non-attachment." Feel free to insert your most poetic, flowery yoga chestnut here.

Like, I get it. But only intellectually. Looking back at my experience in various led-class yoga settings, directions like the ones above immediately established in me a glaring gap between what I was really experiencing and what I thought I should be feeling. Like I said, maybe it's my own faulty wiring, but I just don't know how to "open my heart."

The instances when a great heart opening have occurred have never been intentional, and have always arisen independent of my own desires or efforts to do same.

So these aphorisms helped build a model of experience separate from my own, which turned the practice of yoga into my efforts to get to, or achieve, or attain that model.

Over time, the mundane and decidedly simple physical (and thereby mental) yoga techniques that one can actually do are what has grounded me: Inhale, exhale. Activate mula bandha, or "Take yanal control," as Pattabhi Jois used to say.

So don't ask me my thoughts on that book Mula Bandha: The Master Key. I will say that my thoughts on the subject currently are this: if you can stop the flow of urine and feces, you are intimately familiar with mula bandha. Otherwise, what use?

To have a goal or intention is okay — this is, after all, what the bandhas do for our ujjayi breath; that is, they anchor and give shape and direction to the in- and out-breath. So it's okay to want to perform an asana. But to paraphrase Shunryu Suzuki, you make the effort, and then lose yourself in the effort. It is that perpetual return to the breath, bandhas, and gazing points that allow the non-attachment and heart-opening to perhaps (or perhaps not) arise.

Yoga practice becomes an engagement with what we can do, and this relationship with what we can do right now is an engagement and relationship with the boring splendor of everyday, ordinary reality, just as it is, right now.