Inside Yoga 211 (3/10/17)
Yoga offers us the opportunity to feel a greater sense of calmness, feel more relaxed in general, healthier and fill us with more energy, greater clarity, and in general an improved feeling of well- being, yet all these beneficial aspects are only achieved via establishing stillness.
Through our practice we aim for stillness, both in body and mind, and this requires effort, perseverance and practice because we might achieve some stillness but it often disappears very quickly. Through practice we learn how to tap in to our innate sense of stillness and maintain it for longer periods, and then through stillness we feel all those wonderful states mentioned before.
This is why during last week’s classes I asked the groups to stop still, in both standing position (tadasana) and the seated position (sukhasana) for longer than we usually do, because it takes time to feel and experience stillness, in other words, by letting to the dust settle we can experience stillness.
The question we must ask ourselves is how often do we stop and allow ourselves to settle into stillness? Not often I dare say, because we are creatures of habit, always busy, whether it be due to external demands such as work and family, or more importantly, by ourselves because we can often blame external demands which makes us busy but it is usually our own habitual drive which makes be busy. Like a mouse on a wheel continuously going round and round, we have forgotten how to get off our wheel.
We remain so busy that we don’t know what it is to stop still, even for the few minutes as I asked the classes to do last week. Stillness and silence can feel uncomfortable and unusual for those not used to stopping still and focussing on the body and breathing. We can quite easily react to this restlessness rising by moving on physically or filling our head with busy thoughts and also with thoughts which cause an aversion to very solution to all that ails us – namely stillness.
Many of us can feel guilty if we stop, because time is precious and we have so many things to do, but surely just a few minutes, say 5 or 10 minutes of silent stillness – to recharge batteries, settle a chaotic mind and restless body, is time well worth spent? And I have a suggestion for those who find doing nothing so difficult; using semantics, if we decide to do nothing, we are doing something. By actively establishing stillness, by apparently stopping, we are doing something. There is a saying: procrastination is the thief of time. Don’t waste your time hesitating, avoiding and going in circles – stop and establish stillness…. Then you can move on so to speak. Then you can return to your busy lives but you notice that you now feel clearer and more able to cope with being busy. For an example, an exhausted surfer is less likely to ride the waves well than one who has had a break and returned to waves refreshed. Life can be like riding waves – waves of life which can at time be very rough.
Yoga asanas (postures) are a skilful way of getting rid of our restlessness and resistance to stillness by asking us to hold a position in stillness while satisfying our need at the same time to do something by making it an exercise at the same time, because although we might enter a posture because we like “a nice stretch” the point of the posture is to establish stillness. And we keep doing loads of postures because it takes time and perseverance to find stillness. Like a sculptor chips away at a unformed rock to gradually make it into a piece of art, we chip away with yoga asanas (postures) so that in the end we feel a greater sense of stillness and with it the states of well-being, vitality, clarity and so forth, that we seek.
If you would like to improve your ability to stop still, to meditate on stillness in your own time, I advise to make it manageable, starting with small time periods of practice instead of setting yourself targets you will struggle to meet and unfortunately give up the whole practice as a result.
Start with short periods of stillness practice, for example, 5 , 10, 15 minutes; find a time and place to be alone (hard I agree in a busy home or office) but possible. If you can find a regular time of day to practice that will make the establishment of routine easier, but many will find that not possible, so be an opportunist, by grabbing the chance when opportunity smiles at you and says “you can meditate now!”.
I use a stopwatch on my phone to help keep time, I switch phone to flight mode (you don’t want to be disturbed do you? No you don’t I assure you!); use the stopwatch function and set the bell to a quiet type (you don’t want to leap out of your skin when it goes off!); then you set your intention – not to open your eyes until the bell goes, deciding on how minutes you will sit first
Why the stopwatch and the determination to keep your eyes closed until the bell goes? Quite simply: we are our own worst distraction. If you have a clock it is so tempting to keep looking at the time, and you will find very little time passes before you decide to check, and then recheck and check again! If you have no stopwatch, still set the determination not to open eyes and decide to keep them closes as long as possible! Watch out for the draw of thoughts which say things like “I have this or that to do” or “I fancy a cuppa!”. Tell them all “later” and back to practice.
If you do open your eyes to check time or simply to look around your room (which also happens a lot – the room hasn’t changed but your perception might have when you go quiet!) remember to quietly and calmly close your eyes again… it does not help to chastise yourself in any way for opening your eyes, simply return to the practice.
If you manage to keep this going, and perhaps increase the practice time to 30 minutes or longer, you will start to feel and see progress in your practice, with the gaps between thought increasing and the ability to focus, as gradually the ability to tap into stillness increases. You will also notice how your approach to your life beyond practice improves.
Stillness is described in meditation practice as being a quality that is within us and has always been there. The reason why we do not experience it is because layer upon layer of our busy lives has covered it – in other words, we are unable to find stillness because we are wrapped up in our stresses, distractions and thoughts, physical restlessness, etc, so we need to remove them. Like an onion has layers, we have layers which hide our inner stillness, so we learn to take the layers off like peeling an onion.
This takes practice, hence the repeated message to keep practising your yoga – it works that’s why I have been practising for more than 22 years and continue to practice.
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