Thursday, October 18, 2012
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Restorative-Yin Yoga Practice, 2012
STILLNESS, CALMNESS, AND QUIETNESS open the gate of deep body-mind practices. We come into the place of practice and gather together what we need, and then return to silence. In this first step, we cross over a threshold, exiting the fast pace and multi-dimensional demands of the everyday and entering a landscape without explicit dimensions.
In body-mind practices, whether seated or reclining or moving slowing in tai chi or aiki, we might dial down the chatter and the video clips and sound bites of everyday life. Then, when very concrete things begin to occur—such as our slowing metabolism—our senses have a little less distraction or even purpose, and become more receptive or open.
As our metabolism slows, body physiology is no longer overwhelmed, and spontaneously shifts to monitoring and balancing a variety of complex systems. And then, stilling, calming, and quieting, are, paradoxically, “accelerators” that flip a body switch in us, and a boil of complex chemistry begins. That which is really different for us is a shift from controlling the body to freeing the body and following the body. And a gate opens in the moments of practice that, by returns to such practice, carry over into the everyday.
And then, having awakened the next day after such a calming practice, perhaps we open as I do in my local place and season: a humid, surprisingly warm day in autumn, after a morning rain. We still and calm and remain and be taken by the changing colors of the trees, and inhale the moist air. Gradually, rather than just looking out to the trees, the rain and trees and atmosphere are no longer just interrelated events. The trees are living miracles and they, in turn, are as much rain and atmosphere and sun as they are trees. And these events are also inside of us in a very concrete, practical way. The trees before our senses represent flora that oxygenates the vast atmosphere and offers it freely to each of our breaths. By calming, we might dissolve a wall of sorts in the everyday, and be deeply inside eloquence—a reality--rather than “looking out” to the world at if it was separate from us. Perhaps for this gift of seeing miracles, we might give over a few moments of gratitude.
In Returning To Silence, Soto Zen master Dainen Katagiri has suggested that From moment to moment, the tree explains itself . If we look casually, we likely see our sense of what we have learned to define as a tree rather than see the tree. But if we empty or exclude our presumptions, Katagiri has suggested that There is something more beautiful and much more worthy than what we usually see . Katagiri has suggested that the universe is the content—“the whole personality”—of anything that we are looking at as well as our own personality. Everything is working together. This is not simply an esoteric point of view but the way that the world works and in sync with an ecological/evolutionary morphological perspective. Intentional effort to still and calm and quiet very naturally comes back or returns to silence. And in returning to silence we are in communication with something we cannot say with our words when we open the whole personality of an event. It is the feeling that we generate in the everyday in life-turning experiences such as birth or death of a loved one when all words fall short.
Our discrimination of our experience into objects and events functions well to help us choose and then access resources. But it also limits us. Returns to stillness open a gate of integration. With practice, we are offered the gift of seeing miracles. But much more important, stillness, calmness and quietness can come inside us rather than be something that we observe. Returns to stillness can offer us qualities that do something to us to optimize our health. And they are qualities that are judged to be the very best by any measure, but that are likely to be occur only infrequently in our everyday: suppleness, efficiency, freshness, graceful flow, release, integration, contentment, and many other virtues. By consistent returns, these qualities can become regular attributes of our actions rather than qualities that we experience either infrequently or not at all.
When body-mind practices are only fast and furious, such practices are likely to be largely mind over body. But when we prioritize stillness, calmness and quietness, body-mind practices may become mind following the well-tested wisdom of the body, freeing rather than controlling. And then. a gateless gate to spirit may suddenly open where, heretofore, there appeared to be a wall.
And so the deep base—the heart of body-mind practice—is not a sequence of yoga poses or martial forms [patterns of movement], but rather, stillness and calmness and quietness. Out of this stillness, breath flowers into awareness, and then relaxation, and then openness and expansion, and then, new unchecked information/ideas/creativity, and then transformation. Without stillness, calmness and quietness, all effort is still wondrous yet facile—too easy—lessened, and superficial.
Restorative-Yin Yoga offers a penultimate process for entering stillness, calmness and quietness, because its very heart is the foundation of yoga. The final physical gate is perhaps a posture of sitting and/or savasana that no other body position can equal. As Katagiri roshi has suggested, all you need to do is sit. Sit down, that is all you have to do . And yet it is not casual like sitting on the couch. But it is also not difficult. It is sitting, seeing—from my experience—with eyes of spirit. With such eyes, you might see the dying in Calcutta, as Jesus or as yourself—like Mother Theresa—or like Martin Luther King looking over the mountain and seeing that very real coming day of equality, or like a Lakota holy man having a great dream of an inseparable river of life, or a more secular sense of the Earth as a poem in which we live and express. Then, like the many flavors of the sky—storm, beautiful archipelagos of clouds, overall ashen ceiling, soft rain—sky does not change. There is a constancy that we can touch and yet not really name, and yet that is meaningful and directive. And so to mind—angry, imaging a beautiful idea, sorrowful, then bored, then elated or even ecstatic—mind does not really change. Always fresh, luminous, and graced, and STILLED, CALMED AND QUIET.
Tuesday, October 2, 2012
Copyright Lance Kinseth, Supta Virasana, 2012
STRETCHING AND RELAXING—It is nearly this simple: stretch and relax, and continue to stretch, and flexibility is optimized. But “stretching” is typically associated with pain rather than relaxation. If you train in some facility where sports are emphasized, you are likely to find almost no one stretching even though it is considered to be essential. Athletes sit down into a “hurdle stretch” and, after a few minutes, either give up or believe that they have “stretched.” And a few minutes of stretching is basically worthless. Some time needs to be spent both stretching and holding positions and relaxing to optimize flexibility.
The key need for incorporating stretching into bodywork is to make it a process of relaxation and kindness to oneself. Cats and dogs stretching in the morning do not hurt themselves.
Popular modern yoga may be a quick sun salutation “flow” from one pose to another, and may reflect the tendency in sport fitness to not hold poses
Stretching and relaxing in yoga stresses two simple components:
- Holding poses, [holding can be further optimized by doing sequences related poses], and
- Using breath to expand [often on inhale] and release [often on exhale].
How is this relaxing? You go into the pose and listen for the places of tension in the body, but do not push the tension further. Initially, the sense organs in muscles and tendons cue the tissue to contract to keep from stretching too far. However, when the pose is held but not forced to expand, the sense organs cue the tissue to release a little at a time, stretching the tissue. [See Islands Of Grace, “Holding Poses & Spindle Release,” 2/18/12, for details.] Breath is intentionally used to expand the hold [typically on an inhale] and to then release or relax and stretch further [typically on an exhale].
Stretching and relaxing can offer more than just a way to optimize flexibility and overall suppleness and proportionality of the body that results from being able to hold the pose. While such gains can be remarkable, they are really secondary to the heart process of yoga. When stretching also becomes a process of relaxation, the body stills and calms. The orientation shifts from controlling the body to freeing the body. This provokes an opportunity for yoga to open a pathway to deep body, deep listening and study and meditation that goes to the heart of yoga, and that has been the core objective for yoga for 5000 years.
(3) open awareness, and