Monday, June 27, 2011

Asana as Prayer

Yesterday I had the good fortune to participate in an exclusive webcast Q&A session with Ram Dass, one of the most beloved spiritual teachers of our time. As many of you know, Ram Dass is the author of the groundbreaking “Be Here Now” and several other books that have helped make Eastern spirituality accessible to Western minds. As a member of his online satsang, I have the opportunity to send in questions via email and receive his teachings in a live video stream from Maui, where he lives.

During last night’s webcast, a viewer sent in the following question:  “I am a yoga practitioner, and when I do yoga I feel something shift in me energetically, but I don’t feel connected to Spirit. I don’t feel that sense of union that everyone says yoga is about. How does one experience unity and oneness through yoga?”

Ram Dass speaks haltingly (due to the effects of a stroke several years ago), but nevertheless with great wisdom. In essence, he said:

You can let your yoga be God-focused. You can choose to make it simply a practice of physical exercise, or you can let it be an opportunity to direct your mind, heart and body toward Ram, Krishna, or Shiva. Asana is shaking hands with God. All asanas are communications with that Presence, with the One.

He used the sacred Names of Ram, Krishna, and Shiva, but one can focus on any form or name of the Divine. One can do Christ-centered yoga, or offer oneself to the Divine Mother. Or to the Ein Sof, the primordial formlessness that gives rise to all Life. or simply to the Radiance of one’s own true nature.

In yoga, we practice deep and mindful breathing. What if each inbreath were an opening to Grace? What if each outbreath were a surrender of the ego into the ocean of God’s Love?

Asana is body prayer. What if each upward lift of the arms and opening the chest were an act of inviting that river of Grace to fill our hearts and minds? What if each forward bend were an offering of ourselves to be an instrument of God’s Love?  Each inversion a surrender of small self to Big Self?

Yoga practice can be a meditation-in-motion, and a vehicle for prayer. When we bring a devotional quality into our sadhana, we cultivate a deep peace and sense of expansiveness of which the great yogis have spoken:

Yoga pose is mastered by relaxation of effort, lessening the tendency for restless breathing, and promoting an identification of oneself as living within the infinite breath of life. ~Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 11, 48

I’ll leave you with this delicious image from The Radiance Sutras, as an invitation to play with movement as prayer. Beyond alignment, placement of the feet, and doing it “correctly” our asana practice can be an exploration of the joy of embodiment:

Rocking, undulating, swaying,
Carried by rhythm,
Cherish the streaming energy
Flooding your body
As a current of the divine.

Oh, Radiant One,
Ride the waves of ecstatic motion
Into a sublime fusion
Of passion and peace.

~Radiance Sutras, #60, translated by Lorin Roche

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