'To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else'
– Emily Dickinson
Quite unexpectedly, this week's yin training presented an opportunity to leave the safety of my worrisome mind and to sink myself deeper into the practice of softening. I've been strongly aware of a mental state that has kept me gnawing at my own self, the question hanging over me in every waking hour of how to do what I'm doing in a sustainable, financially rewarding way.
I never planned on being a yoga teacher. In fact, the practice found me and at a time of intense grief and personal loss, scooped me up and provided therapeutic, physical, emotional and spiritual structure to a world that had been whisked out from under my feet. On finding moving meditation through mindful Hatha practices, I had, for the first time in my life, a way of managing – observing, accepting and processing – the pain I was experiencing.
And so I followed the path of yoga; the one that rolled out ahead in the most expansive and welcoming of ways. In my first teacher training at the Sivananda ashram, they systematically worked to break our egos and to make supple our minds while strengthening our bodies. In training I experienced the boundless joy of being at home with myself, the world and its people. And from there, I moved to the other side of the world to study yoga at Masters level, keen to intellectualise the process of becoming that I had witnessed.
My search for an understanding of what happens to the heart when it is broken open and becomes itself a mystic and a wanderer came to an abrupt end when I presented my thesis and took the decision to return to London to create my work. After two years away from this city, which is hard and closed, married to the material and sceptical of the spiritual, I had a different view of yoga to that which I'd studied on the west coast of the States. The path of yoga and the path of the heart seemed to be confused by yoga as physical exercise; a trend and a fad. And my wish to teach people what I knew to be true – that a practice offers relief, and a vast opening into the wonders of life – has been constantly undermined by the necessity of making a living in this world. What, in the early days of practice felt like gifts of insight, growth and awe, now feel like postcards from a trip taken many years ago.
All this is to say that the last 6 years of being awake in the world, on the seeker's path, has been a challenge of enormous proportions. At once simple and profound, the process of awakening has also been pyschologically disruptive to say the least. My monkey mind and its endless chatter has tried to sabotage my practice for as long as I've loved and benefitted from it. And my return to London has been a time of intense worry and rumination over whether my knowledge, study and wisdom can find material counterpart in a society that values status and income as markers by which to rate success.
“The breath changes and you change. Nothing stays the same, yet there is constancy. The breath reminds us that we are here and alive: let it be your anchor to the present moment.”
- Elana Rosenbaum, 'Guided Meditation: Awareness of Breathing'
Yin practice. Though I've been teaching yin for a few short months and have interspersed my Hatha sequences with yin throughout the years of my own practice, this was my first teacher training and immersion in the practice. While the theory and physiological information have been reminders of that which I've studied durring TTC and my MA, more than anything I've felt the training to be a personal retreat; a drop into present-moment awareness and a softening of the harsh and pushing London mind that's returned.
The slowness and the depth of an inch-by-inch practice returned me to the realisation and remembrance, as the manual says, of “gradual training, gradual practice, gradual progress”. In slowing into my body I slowed and softened the edges of my mind. I remembered what it was to let spaciousness and stillness be my guides, and for the weight of mental activity to slip away through my ears. Here I'm reminded of Einstein's adage: “we can't solve problems from the same level of consciousness that created them.”
Releasing tension from the body, I felt tension and impatience releasing from the mind and by consequence, my anxieties around past and future events. Grounded, central to myself, and aware of my surroundings in a state of peaceful attentiveness, this yin practice has brought me closer to myself, like a good friend in embrace. And as I transition into the next phases of my creative, intellectual and professional life, I am reminded at the heart level what it means to trust, to surrender and to receive.