When we embark on a spiritual practice it’s not unusual to open into some romantic and fantastical teachings. They are very attractive and inspiring. Also there are also important truths contained in those fanciful teachings. The more mundane teachings often obscure the vast potential we engage when we embark on our spiritual journeys. Occasionally, we find a teacher who can deliver an ordinary teaching in a way that communicates the vast potential of yoga pan extraordinary and delightful way.
One such teacher who I encountered was Lama Marut. In a meditation workshop he lead us through a weaving path of teachings, delightful, rich, fanciful, funny, very inspiring and just a tad cynical. Subsequently, in the Q&A that followed, he offered this in a jovial and mildly mocking tone: “First, just try to watch your breath for 10 breaths without getting distracted. When you can do that, then worry about the rest of it.” [I paraphrase!] And then we “sat” to try to watch 10 breaths together.
I’d been meditating for years, but what a teaching! I discovered that I was far away from focusing for ten consistent breaths. I could count them, sure but I could count breaths while I constructed a to do list in my mind. Within ten breaths my mind turned hundreds of times. To rest my attention wholly in the breath for ten small breaths was beyond the scope of mindfulness I had acquired at that time. It’s a technique which we can refine and develop and, if we choose, deepen. We begin by observing the relationship between our attention and the breath.
We can consider this in our asana practice.
Where are we for each breath? Drowning in the sound of our breath may help us to stay in a posture without pain, can catapult us into transcendent states and great bliss, but the opportunity to develop the kinesthetic sense of the body is lost. Concentration on the minutiae of the body develops an intellectual construction which can obscure subtle dimensions of the lived experience of a posture.
Our call to attention today is to wake up and be present to our body, our breath, our emotions, the room and the turnings of our minds as we take a posture, and to cultivate our capacity to hold all that in our attention as we move through our asana practice. In a middle ground way – if we allow ourselves to ease openly into intimacy with the moment – presence to the breath and the body opens the portal to the purer state of underlying awareness. When that happens, we are all in the posture. Perhaps you have experienced this. The expansion of attention effects our experience. As we focus on our breath while attending to the whole of our bodies, our minds, our impact on others and our place in the universe we come to know who were are, why we are here and who we can be.