Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Just Breathing

You may wonder why we begin our classes by sitting still and just breathing together. Perhaps you've come to class ready for a workout, and you are antsy to start "doing yoga."

In the West, many think of yoga as primarily physical exercise. But if we read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a 2000-year old text that is central to yoga practice, we see "doing yoga" as a much broader endeavor.

The very first thing Patanjali tells us, in the first three sutras, is in essence:

1) This is the beginning of yoga practice, and I offer you these teachings.
2) Yoga is about calming the mind, bringing the wild fluctuations of thought into stillness.
3) When you can do that, then you will know who you truly are.

Notice how he hasn't said anything about putting our foot behind our head, or twisting the spine. That comes later. The first, most basic thing he tells us about yoga practice is to be still and calm the mind, so that we may know our true, limitless nature.

So that's where we start. Taking a few moments to honor that stillness, using the breath and awareness to dip down into the reservoir of peace that lives within us, is a fundamental aspect of our sadhana (spiritual practice). We may not be successful at touching into deep peace, especially if we've been experiencing agitation in our daily life. Most of us bring quite a bit of turbulence with us to the mat. But just that moment of settling in and breathing sets an intention, and is essentially a prayer for inner peace.

May I be peaceful.
May I be happy.
May I see even just a glimpse of the vastness of who I really am.

As a yoga teacher, it is my intention to begin each class by inviting you to into a sanctuary, into that place of peace that can be found in the midst of even the most unsettling day. The breath is our key to that sanctuary, and it's always available to us, always waiting to welcome us in.

In the beginning, darkness covered the face of the deep.
Then the rushing-breath of life hovered over the waters.
Let us breathe together.
Let us catch our breaths from the need to make, to do.
Let us be conscious of the Breath of Life.
We breathe out what the trees breathe in.
We breathe in what the trees breathe out.
Together we breathe each other into life.
Blessed is the One within the many.
Blessed are the many who make One.

 ~Arthur Waskow

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