The following post is inspired by a dharma talk by the magnificent David Life at Wild Woodstock.
When I present dinner to my son on a large plate, he often complains that there is too much food and asks me to give him less, on a smaller dish. In doing this, I contain an aspect of his world so that he is able to ingest it without feeling overwhelmed. In this same way, we restrict the nature of many things by placing them into a manageable form, whether it be a spoonful of peas instead of a limitless pot, a river rather than an unending ocean, a tree rather than an impermeable forest. By reining these things into a shape, they obtain individual meaning that we can comprehend.
When a tree stands in the ground from its trunk to its leafy branches, it has a certain value as a whole tree. A coniferous tree, for example, gives shelter through its design of branches and needles in relationship to the ground, and expels sap though it’s bark. If we had only a branch of that tree, or one of its pine cones for that matter, it would have a different value and also a different meaning to us. Nature intended to make the tree in its magnificent form. The tree in its completeness, is bigger than the sum of its parts.
By seeing the tree, however, we see another limited form, for the tree is not simply standing on the ground, but connects into the ground and is continually fed through its roots. It roots draw from the moisture of the recent rainfalls and nearby streams and rivers, that are also dissolving through the boundary lines between the water and the soil. The tree is not separate from the ground, but integrated into the earth and it’s cycle in the greater universe.
It’s is the same with land and it’s uses. The map as we know it, showing its boundaries by state or country and it’s hard lines, is not reality; the earth is organic and curvy and flowing landscapes, one into another. Man has placed those boundary lines on the land for his own purposes in order to strengthen or weaken power of a given individual or group. From another vantage point, these man-made decisions have affected a greater number of lives than probably intended. The natural homes and roaming territory created for the four-legged creatures, water beings and tree beings, is disappearing. Before humans put up fences, knocked down trees and created obstacles, animals had unlimited corridors in which to move. The land for the animals as it is today, is more like individual islands; corrals severing their movement and migration.
We frame our understanding of life with our perspective and motivation in order that we may understand it, relate it in context to something else. Our body is another example of this. Our skin acts as a barrier between us and the world, it defines where ‘we’ end and where other begins, and some people take great comfort in believing this limitation. But are we truly separate? After all, our skin has pores and we are, in reality, breathing the outside-in through these pores, and vice verse, expelling the toxins and moisture out. Rather than a barrier between our insides and the outsides, in actuality, it is more of a meeting point, where we merge into each other. On this note, most of us have felt someone else angry or happy in a room of people, their ‘energy’ seeping into the space, and I have certainly have found myself taking that energy of another being in as my own from time to time. This is no different.
In Rolfing, there is a term called palintonicity: our ability to extend down into the earth, by way of the hips, legs and feet; up, through our torso, upper body and crown; front body, and back body; and even expanding sideways in lateral space. In other words, rather than our feet resting on top of the earth, can we extend downwards through the earth, and likewise, in every other direction. Our physical form is important for so many reasons, but when our context is only diminished, when we absorb ourselves only in the direction inward, it can sometimes feel limiting; isolating. By increasing our awareness of both the limited, framed version of ourself, as well as the greater universal formless form which we can expand from our body, a doorway opens, enabling us to soften our belief system about how we relate ourselves to other. Softening the mind to this understanding is the first step in softening the body out of a fixed point and into something greater.
Yoga asana practice can also be seen as a framing, of sorts. There are different physical postures that have been created as a structure, but the goal of making these shapes is not to hold these postures like a statue, a solid, unmoving mass. A yogi’s interest is in finding the stillness within the structure, even while moving. We understand that the softening body is what dissolves and morphs from one pose to another; what transforms our thinking, cortical mind to our sensory world; what merges the framework of our practice into our life. In other words, while we are not always mobile, we are always motile.
Sometimes the practices of yoga can sound vague if not put into context. Phrases like ‘open your heart’, ‘be one with the universe’ and ‘see yourself in all others’ can be a little overwhelming. Putting a frame on the class, whether it be finding ‘foundation through the feet’, or ‘turning your world upside down’ through inversions, can help us to segment, to separate, so we can reintegrate into something greater. We find corridors in a yoga class, through the Rolfing process, in our life, to connect and transform from one thing to another, while connecting the dots along the way. We are more than the sum of our parts.
Please join me on Sunday, September 7, for the first of three workshops on the topic of the architecture of asana, exploring the various regions of the body in relationship to an integrated yoga practice at Indaba Yoga Studio. Follow the link below to book in: https://www.facebook.com/events/290000161173856/