Thursday, January 22, 2009


I know I have said before here that what happens on the mat is often a microcosm of what happens off the mat. I have been reminded of this connection again recently. Take, for example, the notion of alignment. If you are new to asana practice and you have a good teacher, you will probably hear her saying things that you don't understand or simply can't do. There may be nagging questions that recur every practice - "What does she mean, lift the palms?! I can't do that." "Spiral the inner thighs outward?" "Push into the feet and lift your hips towards the sky?! My hamstrings are screaming. What does he mean, push into the feet?" When you first start practicing, you may not be aware of your body and it can be hard to figure out whether everything is lined up correctly, and tension in the body can prevent the right alignment from occurring without modifications.

If you continue to practice with patience, one day something will be a little bit different. Perhaps you do a different sequence of poses to warm up, or maybe you practice at a different time of day, have been doing more yoga, or are simply ready. Alignment is one of those things in life that you might wonder if you're experiencing when you don't have it right, but when you get it, you know. It's also one of those feelings that can be very hard to put into words. When the
principles of alignment are applied correctly, energy flows freely through the body and you can find ease in the pose. The body feels both lighter and more grounded. The spirit is joyful.

I know I have written in
this blog about a teacher who talked about balancing the past and the future. His class focused on opposing forces: energy both rooting or grounding behind (into the past) and reaching forward (into the future). The grounding of energy allowed a lightness and freedom, allowing the forward energy to flow freely. It is important that this process does not involve clinging to the past or grasping for the future. The body remains balanced between opposing forces, firmly in the present.

Recently, I experienced this phenomenon off the mat. After months of struggling with life, experiencing the emotional equivalent of tight hamstrings, I had an encounter that left me with a very distinct sense of grounding into my past. As I considered this over the coming days, I suddenly experienced the sense of alignment, of my life path falling into place ~ and of a sudden freedom to reach into my future unrestrained. The sensation was very similar to that I have experienced when finding the right alignment in a pose - the same lightness of being, the sense of balance and grace. While both past and future are essential to this experience, the ultimate result has little to do with either ~ it is rather a sense of being completely present and in the right place.

I wonder if I had not been familiar with this experience on the mat, would I have recognized it off the mat? Would I have overly fixated on the past or the future and missed the opportunity to be fully aware of where I am?

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