I’m on week two of my latest Hanuman yoga practice. I’ve certainly done a series on Hanuman before but that feels almost irrelevant as this time it sits alongside a whole new set of variables.
Permanence and impermanence
As a teacher, I turn up, teach a class and then it’s gone. It will never come back, and I’ll never ever be able to recreate it in exactly the same way. In some ways that’s the beauty, I make mistakes, fumble over words and then it’s gone and I have to let it go back into the ether. Perhaps I learn something I can use in future. However, more often than not it’s simply something that happened on that day. Or I’m lacking consistency in my own practice somewhere that life is making difficult. This transience, however, is why I feel so strongly pulled back to the teachings. We’re talking words which have been said for thousands of years and in their original form have not changed one little bit.
I think that one thing I’m trying to do at some level of consciousness is to try and some way bridge the gap between permanent and impermanent.
Tracking the process
At week two of this yoga practice I’m still really figuring it all out and discovering where it’s going to go this time. I realised last week that a lot of people are coming from a break of some kind, ready to start something new. Or get back to something which has been a bit scattered for a couple of months. There are lots of students who’ve been coming to my classes for a long time. Before this year, I put it down to something else to juggle in classes, albeit particularly profound at this time of year.
My instinct, as in most years, is to place some poses from which there are lots of options so that I can offer lots of variations. That way, no matter where there are in terms of experience there’s something for them. I still think this is a valid and useful approach. However, my niggle has always been that these series and yoga overall aren’t linear. Life doesn’t go in one direction, we have our ups and downs and sometimes these don’t make sense in the moment we’re in. Maybe we nailed that pose last week but today it’s just not going to fly.
The end game
If we apply, are consistent with our practice and have great guidance our practice will improve. This is true if we’re viewing it from the external aesthetic of a pose. Or even from the therapeutic standpoint of nursing an injury. It also applies if considering any of the multitude of reasons why we practice yoga: with practice and consistency we will gain skill. I am certainly not against any of these things – at all.
What is it really all for?
When I look out into the post COVID-19 landscape that we now find ourselves in, what I see is a lot of mental and emotional turmoil. Because I’m looking, I see it in bodies but I’m also sensing dis-spiritedness all around. We understood that this was going to happen. However, intellectual knowledge doesn’t often equate to lived experience. We are in it now and I see it almost every day: in myself, my family and friends and my students. It’s evident on all levels:
- Physical: the way we carry ourselves and our energy levels
- Mental: the headspace which is available to us
- Emotional: how much things will impact our sense of peace and how long it takes for that to disperse
- Spiritual: a sense of meaning and trust in the future
So I go back to where we began. Those words which were written down thousands of years ago and lay the foundation for everything that came and is still coming. Right up to the moment when I step up to the front of a room to teach. Right back to the syllables and words of the original Sanskrit. One word keeps coming back to me: mantra.
We use mantra in common parlance: that’s my mantra, my mantra has been. In yoga practice we understand it as a phrase or word that is repeated over and over. Om is a mantra but there are many others which are healing medicine for our spirits. As usual the yogis knew the power of a repeated phrase long before the neuroscientists. We now know a lot more about the plasticity of the brain. The more we realise that we can change the neural pathways and make new ones the more potential we realise we have. That’s pretty mind blowing, if you’ll pardon the pun. We are adaptable as a species and constantly adapting. That’s where I place my hope.
All the way back
I’d like to take it back a step further, however and break the word down into its constituent parts: man and tra. Man being the mind, tra being an instrument. You can spot these syllables in other Sanskrit words like mandala (garland) or uttanasana (intense forward fold).
A mantra is an instrument over which we wrap our minds.
What’s it all for
And that’s what it’s all for. Something to give our minds something to do and not run wild with the bombardment we’re all facing on a daily basis. I must hear or think the word overwhelm 100 times a day. Like so many things there are lots of techniques for this, hundreds in the yoga tradition alone. In truth, I’ve found myself running mile upon mile upon mile. Something uber physical seems to be the only way I can bring myself back right now, to disperse the stagnant and crackling energy inside.
Consistency and dedication
And that consistency is paying off. I’m able to sit and breath or meditate when I honestly haven’t been anywhere close to that for months. It may help that the rhythm of my day has changed and I have more consistent time available. Whatever it is, there is something for each of us. It just may take a little time to find or refind it. We’ll return, and I include myself in this, to something which worked before. We think it will work again but maybe we need to come with an open mind to something new.
That’s what I’m finding myself wishing to offer over these six weeks of yoga practice, some ideas and option to help this, I hope some of it lands.