Last night, we were talking about the parameters of cultivating a steady and fruitful meditation practice, and Paul Muller-Ortega suggested that it was about the balance of stability and flexibility. He had learned the principle from a different source, but I have contemplated and explored the principle in depth from teachings I have received from John Friend.
A critical aspect of the Anusara alignment principles is to find the perfect balance of stability and freedom. We need stability to stay fully and safely in each pose. We need freedom to achieve the fullest and most delightful expression of the pose.
We find the stability both by making certain that we have established our foundation (which is an aspect of the first principle of opening to grace). By then using the three aspects of muscular energy–hugging the muscles to the bone, drawing into the midline, and drawing energy from the periphery to the focal point, we make possible an expansion of our edge, whatever that might be. Having a solid, aligned foundation and affirming our very core with these actions, gives us security and balance. We also want to reach out, to be playful, to expand to our fullest, which we do using the expansive, outreaching organic energy — from focal point to the periphery, from the midline to our outer edges, from the very marrow of our bones through bone, muscle, skin, and beyond.
If we over-emphasize (including natural inclination) stability, then we can get stuck. If we just let ourselves be free, then we end up all over the place. When these elements are perfectly balanced, we can safely find our deepest freedom of expression.
When I teach this principle as the focus of a class, I always invite my students to think of how important the balance of stability and freedom is for every aspect of our lives.
The discussion last night put this principle in the context of the regularity and steadiness of our practice, with the recognition that to stick with our practice, we will sometimes need to vary the time or amount of our practice, or what elements are included in the practice.
To get the fullest benefits of a practice (this applies to any practice and not just to meditation), we need to show up consistently and to practice in accordance with how we have been taught. To stay steady, though, we need to give ourselves the permission or freedom not to show up, or within appropriate parameters, to modify the practice when life gets in the way of what we think would be the ideal practice. If we think we have to do things at the exact time and place every day in a perfectly precise way, we become rigid. On the other hand, if we are loosey-goosey about it, then we do not have much of a practice and will not realize the benefits that we could get.
Where in your practice or life would more stability and steadiness give a field for greater freedom and happiness? Where could you give yourself a little more flexibility so that you feel that steadiness brings the possibility of joy, rather than tying you down?
Peace and light, E — Posted with WordPress for BlackBerry.
Last night in group practice, we were working on the mini-arm balances. As I demonstrated a pose, my spine shifted. From the middle thoracic vertebra right behind the heart all the way up to C7, each vertebra popped sequentially, releasing energy not only from each vertebra, but upward. I felt an incredible lightness moving from the heart space all the way through the crown of my head. We talked about it a little in practice, because the fact that some kind of opening had occurred was fully evident to everyone in the group.
As a purely physical matter, opening my thoracic spine is good. I have degeneration in my cervical and lumbar spine. Those parts of my spine are very mobile, almost unusually so, whereas my thoracic spine is quite tight. This imbalance can cause pain and muscle tension, though through therapeutic practice of the Anusara principles, I progressively find a healthy balance of stability and freedom. Go to any decent physical therapist for neck or lumbar pain, and the therapist will work to open the thoracic spine, which although it should be stiffer (being attached to the ribs and protecting the heart), likely needs to be more mobile to be in better balance with the rest of the spine.
This morning, I woke up still feeling more open around the heart space and noticing a shift in the energy in my upper back, neck, and head, and the sensation of the opening I experienced carried itself through my morning meditation.
We never know when we are going to get an opening in our practice. I keep coming to the mat and the meditation cushion because I want to be more open, more grounded, more free, more full of energy, more compassionate, more at peace, more in tune with others. It is fairly rare, though, that I experience a noticeable opening all at once (and the reason to practice should not to be to have wild moments, sensations, visions, etc).
When one comes, though, it leaves open the question: what will I do with it? Will I get absorbed in talking about it and reliving it? Will I think that I can slack in my practice because I have had a big opening? Will I return to how things were before? It is easy enough to do. Just witness the collective energy and momentary hopefulness of this country when it elected President Obama. Upon not getting instant change and relief, the country has returned to blaming, divisiveness, ineffectiveness, finger-pointing, greediness, warlikeness, and catering to the corporate war machine instead of moving towards universal health care, peace, and “green” energy consumption. It would likewise be easy for me to have enjoyed experiencing something wild and special on my mat and then go outside to walk to work and be tense and grumbly about the ice on the sidewalks, the snow in the forecast, and the limits I experience in my daily life. I know there will be some going backwards, but I will strive to take this experience to shift to a more optimal place in my practice on and off the mat.