People everyday hop into their 2,000 pound loaded weapon and drive it at 70 mph facing other 2,000 lb. weapons driving towards them at 70 mph with a small grassy space of approximately 15 feet between them. That requires a great deal of trust on each and everyone’s part. The preparation for this starts at age 15. At such a young age, and after only a few hours of study and practice they are unleashed on the world as acceptable drivers. It’s crazy how we are all so anxious to drive and explore the world thru these heavy machines that have the potential to become dangerous if not driven carefully. So to help us stay safe and limit the amount of damage such a large piece of machinery could inflict, the roads are riddled with all sorts of warnings to the dangers we face when exploring the world. There is the “Caution- slippery when wet” warning, the “curvy road ahead” warning, the “65 mph hour” warning, the slow down “school zone” warning, the caution “deer crossing” etc… If you have driven a car, you know this is just a small sampling of warnings available to us when behind the wheel. Even the cars we drive themselves have warnings. There are the brake light warnings, saying that “I’m slowing down”, the turn signal warnings, hazard light warnings signaling that “my car has broken down”, and the “Watch out! I’m backing up warning”. With so many warnings it’s amazing that we are so eager to drive and to commute in this chaos each and every day. Yet we can be so unwilling to listen to the many warnings that our body signals to us each and every day we venture out on our own two feet.
Yoga is a place where we become very good at interpreting all the unspoken warning signs that our body elicits. Here’s an example of a warning sign that the body might give: “Warning! Warning! You are carrying too much weight for the frame of your body”. What does this warning look like you might ask? Well it looks the same as a car carrying to much weight for it’s frame. It collapses, things buckle and the suspension looks shot. In humans it shows up as the classically buckled/knocked knee and flat foot. These people will make endless trips to the doctor pointing all the blame of this pain they are experiencing to their knees and none of the blame at themselves. I recently heard a great quote which said “be careful when you point your finger because there are still 3 pointing back at you.” If your knees are rubbing together when you walk it’s probably like driving around in a car with no shocks. I’d say that the cautionary sign this would equate to is “Caution! Falling rock!”. The sign I’m talking about warns you the earth has a possible tendency to collapse. The human frame when put under too much pressure also has the possibility to collapse.
|Rocks Falling Symbol Sign|
Our body warns us a lot like these signs do. The greater the risk the more warnings it sends us. Just like as the risk increases while driving they will warn us more frequently and intensely of the dangers approaching with bright colors like red’s and yellow’s, or by adding lights that blink, or even rumble strips. When we practice yoga we are being bombarded all the time with similar warnings’. Feelings that tell us to approach with caution, to slow down, to use our brakes, or to not ride to closely to the person in front of us. Sometimes when we practice yoga we are hot on the tail of the person in front of us. It’s as if we want to be better then them, faster than they are and we definitely want to get to the next pose first. Sometimes on our mats we never use our brakes. Instead we just jam our foot on the accelerator, even though the teacher reminds us that we have brakes available to us at all times. The external brake is Mula Bandha and the internal brake is humility. The teacher may pause class to discuss alignment and give cautionary warnings necessary for the next pose, and yet sometimes we choose not to listen and jump right into it with-out any guidance, because we must get there before anyone else. It’s like the people that see the speed limit is 65 mph but decide that they know best and that 80 mph is better. But is it safer?. We also know that to drive 80 mph makes us less fuel efficient. Why is efficiency so under-rated?
Efficiency doesn’t mean you work less, it means you work smarter. Efficiency is strongly associated with wisdom/knowledge. Yoga’s word for knowledge is vidya. Someone lacking it is experiencing avidya. Patanjali’s Yoga sutra 2.4 says – Avidya ksetram uttaresam prasupta tanu vicchinnodaranam translated – Ignorance is the root of all the causes of suffering, whether these are latent, feeble, intermittent or intense. Sutra 2.5 expounds by saying – Anityasuci duhkhanatmasu nitya suci sukhatmakhyatir avidya translated – Ignorance is confusion of the transitory with the eternal, the pure with the impure, pain with pleasure and the relative with that absolute. To work efficiently is what sutra 2.16 epitomizes – Heyam duhkham anagram – future suffering should be anticipated and avoided. That’s what all these warning signs when driving are trying to tell us. Avoid, or approach with caution the bridge that freezes before the road. Avoid, or approach with caution area’s of dense fog (not being able to see clearly should guide you to sutra 2.2 – Samadhi bhanvanarthah klesa tanukaranarthas-ca translated – The intent of yoga is to establish clear perception by removing the causes of suffering.) Avoid, or approach with caution, or at the very least, anticipate what lies ahead. These signs should allow you enough time to react accordingly and allow you to get to your destination safely. As sutra 2.26 says – Vivekakhyatir aviplava hanopayah – Discrimination is the method to end the confusion and bring clarity. If you can’t discriminate where the yellow line in the road is because it’s too foggy, rainy or snowy out, you just might end up in a ditch. When students approach asanas with-out caution they may experience this “falling in a ditch” by experiencing injury, jealousy or worse… narcissism. I heard this joke once that said “If you teach Ashtanga yoga you are narcissist, masasochist and sadist.” Good thing we have the sutras to keep us in line.
It’s important to listen to your teacher, they have traveled this road before. They should know it well and be able to point out to you all the hidden dangers (You should find out what your teachers credentials are). But even more important is to listen to your body. Listen when it says, slow down, approach with caution, turn on your brights to see better, or yield to oncoming ego’s. Become a responsive interpreter of your bodily sensations. Here’s a few of my interpretations; tightness means decelerate, dull pain means take a new route, pain means Stop! Now! Confusion means put on your hazards, ask questions and slow down. Fatigue means you should take the next exit and take a break (Balasana). Tension means take your foot off the accelerator. If you’re experiencing a bumpy ride, it means work with less effort. If your breath is spuddering, it means slow down, you are approaching a school zone. Remember to be a student and learn something new. Holding your breath during yoga is equivalent to stopping where there was only a yield sign. Falling out of poses means it’s time for a detour, you need a new approach. I could go on and on.
|Left Winding Road Sign – Sharp Turn Sign|
There will always be things that distract you. Why do you think the highway is littered with billboards? Because the mind is a fickle thing, easily tempted this way and that. Even though there are many roads that will lead you up the mountain, not all roads will get you there. If I walked across the United States, it would take me longer, but ultimately I would see so much more along the way and I could notice the details. Or I could drive at a high rate of speed and have it pass by my window as a blur. Take your time with your yoga. Listen to all the warnings. Each is a new detail about your body. Some practices will be 35 mph practices, while others will be 65 mph. As some roads can only be driven at 35 mph in order to be safe, so is true of your ever changing body and state of mind. It’s okay if someone seems ahead of you in yoga, maybe they had an earlier start. People have been ahead of you for centuries. You can not catch up to those that have a 10 year start over you. Let them carve the path that you and others can follow. Your teacher, and his teacher before him, and the one before that have cleared the way a bit by gathering the knowledge collected over centuries and sharing it with you. Trust the process, trust your teacher just as you trust all those people on the road. You trust everyday that they are driving with their eyes open. But just remember this is never blind trust. Always filter it first through your natural instincts. Be careful out there. Many obstacles lie ahead. It might be a bumpy road but “Practice and all is coming.”