Something from Nothing
A typical yoga class session with a teacher begins similar to this:
The teacher invites the students to take a relaxed pose: lying down, sitting in easy seat, or standing in mountain pose, with their eyes closed, as they are about to prepare for the yoga practice to come.
The teacher instructs them to bring their awareness to their breath, observing it, without making alterations. Then, the teacher asks them to scan their body, again, simply to make statements of the existing situation, no alterations. “Just acknowledge what is, let it be.”
Next, the teacher asks the students to focus on their mental condition, and to make note of this, too: Feelings of anxiety? Nervousness? Tension? Distractions? Preoccupations, Frustrations? Peacefulness?
Again, the students acknowledge whatever frame of mind they are in and let it exist.
Then, students are asked to return to their breath, lengthen the inhales and exhales, deepen the breath, expanding it beyond the diaphragm into the abdomen, upwards and into the rib cage, the shoulder girdle.... to even out the exhales and inhales to a count of four or longer.
Finally, students are invited to “set an intention for their practice”. This is a private act, nobody knows what each individual decided upon for their intention. Everybody is asked to hold on to this intention and return to it whenever they lose it during yoga practice.
Every time I hear this invitation, I begin to wonder what this may do to my fellow yogis in the room.
What did they pick? Resolutions like “I don't want to be anxious any more”? Or “I don't want any more hate in my life”? “I want to feel peace”? “I want to have a great day”? Or maybe “I want to practice well”? These all seem like possible candidates for an intention, so why not!
The first time I heard my yoga teacher ask me to set an intention for practice, I wondered what the purpose of this should be. I thought, well, I am here to do yoga, so let it be related to that: “I want to practice well.” There, I set my intention! That's what I kept up in the beginning days of my yoga practice, the first few weeks. But soon, I came to realize that this was easier said than done. What is a good practice? How do I practice well? Does this just come about by itself? Will it just happen because I said so? Could I actually also practice “unwell”, meaning doing it wrong without ever knowing that I did it wrong? Soon, it began to dawn on me that, yes, I could very easily do that.
Gaining the proper understanding of even the simplest postures is a long term process, not an instant accomplishment. Sitting with my legs crossed, erecting the spine straight, pulling the shoulders down, away from my ears, the shoulder blades hugging my thoracic cage, the sternum raised, the head poised in equilibrium above my shoulders, my pelvis tilted just right, my thighs relaxing and the knees resting on the floor, all that demands to happen during a longer process, it is not instantaneous. Adjustments offer themselves while I sit quietly for several minutes and observe my body sitting there.
My mind begins to zoom in on a part of my body, say, my hip flexors, or my pelvis, or the spine. And with the help of my breath, I can adjust that part of the body, upwards, downwards or in any other dimension, letting go, settling into a deeper expression of this posture. What a miraculous process this is. Time is a big factor.... time, patience and attention to what the body is doing, how it is doing it. There are many “aha” moments in this process!
As the first two or three months of my yoga practice passed, one day I got the idea that the best intention to set would probably be something in the way of a 'universal tool', an intention which would help me make the most of my practice. I got inspired to set my intention to “Let me be completely empty”. What I meant by that is, let me empty my mind, my body, any expectations, all my feelings, my impressions, my thoughts, preoccupations, worries.... let me make a “tabula rasa” ! So, I visualized myself as a beautiful, tall vessel, poised in infinite space, and with a subtle movement, I tilted it gently to let the contents of my inner self flow gently and completely out of the vessel into the void of the universe, return it to where it came from. Then, I visualized that I put my vessel back into the upright position, and I contemplated and savored the empty Me.
My inner space of awareness felt like a vast, sheer endless, silent and smooth existence, serene and promising. I set my intention to keep my inner condition just this way during the hour of yoga practice . I wanted to see what would happen during a practice with this “no intention-intention”.
And it was simply amazing! Now, instead of being torn apart by errant thoughts, my mind could focus its attention on the practice, keenly observe every move, to see what was happening in the muscles I stretched or contracted. I discovered that it could 'visit' every part of my body, observing it and learning from its needs and actions. It helped me to understand how yoga postures work, what their effects were on the body as a whole organism.
The hour of practice seemed like just the span of one breath, and it was already over! Time seemed to also have vanished in this process of “emptying”! I realized that energy came to me whenever I needed it, fatigue had mostly vanished along with the rest of the emptied-out articles. And as the practice drew to its closing in Savasana, I felt accomplished and filled with fresh energy, warmth and inner harmony and contentment. I knew that I had received from the universe just what I needed that day!
I began to understand that this is how it should be for all of us, in the ideal world. We learn to trust our life, our existence, knowing that it will provide us with what is best for us, at any given time, in any situation. Instead of picking and choosing all kinds of “something”, we have the option to choose the big “Nothing”. This “Nothing” will transform itself into any and all appropriate “somethings” we may need at any given time, in any given situation, and it will be just the right amount and quality of support and inspiration for that particular situation. This has to be the best intention we can ever offer ourselves!
So, I'm thinking, maybe this “void my inner self completely” intention really is the universal tool, which, if used correctly, would turn out to be the all-in-one solution to any and all life situations?
It may not be easy to gain control over this tool upon first try, but it will serve each of us well if we keep practicing it. As is true for any and all tools, every time we practice, we gain a better understanding of it, and we increase our skill level in its use! It has proven itself to me time and time again over the two years on my yogic path. I find that it helps me progress steadily, it taught me to always be in the Here and Now. And this is the best possible place to be in, always. I can take this tool and use it anywhere, all the time.... at home, with the kids, in the office, in the supermarket, on the road ... It brings the benefits of yoga directly into my life of every day, anytime, anywhere.
Now if that is not an awesome, real-life benefit of practicing yoga, then I don't know what is!
I want to invite my readers to try it out for themselves and see if this may serve them well!