The world is an expression of opposites, and it swings between these disparate poles constantly. When we over-identify with the world, we are subject physically, emotionally and intellectually to the up and downs of the world. When the world swings, we swing. The constant swinging between the pairs of opposites creates friction, which we identify with, claim as ours and experience as stress.
An antidote for relieving this stress is changing our focus and redefining and examining what we consider valuable. We have no control over the outer world – the weather, other people’s behavior, the time of day. When we focus inward, we can learn to control our experience with our own interpretations, reactions, and thought patterns – and our world experience can dramatically improve. The more we focus on managing the external world the more stressed out we become, since the world does not bend to our whims and will not acquiesce to our preferences.
Yoga offers us a few tools that can help cultivate that inward gaze: an introverted gaze, whereby we shift our thoughts from the ever-changing, uncontrollable world to what we can control – our reactions and responses and ultimately, where we place our energy. Below is the briefest of introductions to the basic tools of the practice that have a subtle depth and application:
- Ujayyi Breath: More than just deep breathing, this is a placed breath. Its home is specific. It is intentionally placed in the back of the throat to soothe, and to encourage the mind to focus in the present moment. Stay tuned for another blog post where we define and describe steps to take to cultivate ujayyi breath in your practice.
- Bandhas: Bandhas are energetic locks that are engaged through conscious connection—an accent of presence, as described by Todd Tesen. Bandhas stabilize and lock in energy to promote greater cultivation and transformation. During a physical practice, engaging bandhas helps to feel balanced, and heighten our awareness of our body/breath connection. Bandhas demand exploration and experience – it’s something that we have to feel to understand. More information to come in a future post – we could talk bandhas for days.
- Drishti: This is where your focus lies. It is an introverted gaze that does not completely disregard world, but teaches us to exist within it without being disturbed by it. It is Sakshi – the witnessing perspective. This is one of the most spiritual tools in the entire practice. A drishti point can be physical or energy body, i.e. looking up at the raised hand or placing focus in uddiyana bhanda. Emotional, a watching of your reactions. Intellectual, cultivating a subtle witness, a looking at thought patterns. Training your mind’s eye to search for unconscious thought patterns and physical patterns, and observing for similarities among the differences – all of this is seeing the unseen, and comes from an introverted gaze. This gaze helps to fortify the intellect, which is built through self-reflection and questioning. Only with an intellect, can a yogi start to perceives similarity in the diversified world (more to come on body, mind and intellect).
You can think of the poses we practice in class to represent our outward, worldly experiences. Imagine that chatturanga is checking your email, that half-moon is brunch – how well you can focus on presence, drishti, and breath through these experiences? With practice, the way we moderate our inner focus and experience will translate from the mat and into life outside of the studio.
To read more about these concepts, check out The Fall of the Human Intellect by Swami Parthasarathy.
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