Tonight I am especially reminded about the three parts of all things, because today has had so many fresh beginnings and closures in it - new teaching prospects, my boyfriend's new career shift, my best friend beginning her new life in a new city. I am reminded about the sound of Aum.
The first time I ever heard the word "aum," I asked my friend, "what does it mean?" He told me, "it is the sound of the entire universe. it's said to hold every sound of every thing in it." This was remarkable to me, unfathomable even.
The first time I was taught to chant the sound of Aum, my teacher taught it in three parts, one for each sanskrit syllable: the beginning, middle and end. Each part resonated with a different vibration that I have heard corresponds to certain chakras (A with first 3, U with next 2 and M with top 2) and helps to facilitate clearing them.
This 3 part idea about Aum is widespread and comes with many fantastic symbols.
A = beginning, birth,creation, Brahma
U= middle, life, preservation, Vishnu
M= end, death, destruction, Shiva
A syllable is pronounced like the a in "mama"
U syllable is pronounced like the "oo" in "who"
M syllable is pronounced like "ma" but with proper diction sounds more like "ng" with the tip of the tongue pressing off of the palate
Often you will find teachers closing, opening, or otherwise sealing a class by leading everyone through a single [or triple] chant of the sound of "aum." This is symbolic! It represents an offering up of one's practice to a higher vibration, to the macrocosm, to the greater yogic community, to send a collective and intentional vibration through the chakra system and 'seal' in the benefits of the practice, to meditate on the 3 phases of all things...
That is why yogis aum, among other reasons [like: it feels good to make sound! and... harmonizing is cool!]
So in the spirit of the all encompassing sound of Aum I ask you, dear readers:
Yesterday I took a poetry performance workshop, because, if you didn't know, I write and perform spoken word poetry. Participants were asked to choose one piece to work on, to have it memorized and to bring in a few copies for people to read.
The facilitator asked us to introduce ourselves and say a few words about what we'd hoped to get from the workshop. There was a lot of discussion from people about hoping to gain a better way of reconnecting to the raw emotion that first catalyzed their piece, many claiming that after performing it a number of times, the emotional charge had begun to wear thin. In response, the facilitator asked us, "What's at stake when you share this poem with people?... What's at stake?" He then offered up an anecdote from his own arsenal, and went on to tell us about a poem he reads often which still riles up a sadness in him. The poem was about his late grandmother and a house visit where she was especially jovial when he'd arrived. He told us, "When I perform this poem, I want people to walk away thinking, 'Damn, I really need to call my grandmother today.'"
This got me thinking about my yoga practice and why I come to the mat. I see that it is so easy to go through the motions - because I have a class package that will expire soon, because yoga is a fad exercise - even if my original intention is toward something greater. I think sometimes we practice on the mat and think that this is enough for us to get by, and when that happens, it becomes easier to forget WHY we do it.
So in the same way that as a poet I was asked to examine what my point was for performing the piece I brought to the workshop, I am asking what our point is for practicing hatha yoga. What is at stake when we come to the mat? What is at stake when we walk in to a yoga studio and prepare ourselves for practice? What is the point of moving through a vinyasa or taking a handstand?
...Body-breath alignment, a calming of the nervous system, reducing stress in the body to prevent long-term deterioration and disease, to increase lung capacity, to increase mental focus, to increase core strength and sustainable posture, to increase circulation and endurance, to increase awareness, patience, responsiveness...
what is at stake when you practice yoga? what is at stake when you research and study yoga? and lastly, what is at stake if you don't practice yoga?
This post is about resistance and freedom. How apropos that it comes at the close of Independence Day weekend ;)
I went swimming for the first time this weekend in nearly 3 years. Crazy to think considering that as a child I basically lived in my pool. To my surprise, I found that I needed some practice in remembering how to do it! I know how to swim, but the finer mechanics eluded me. For instance, as I was practicing holding my breath under water, I found that I was scrunching my face together so that water wouldn't get in my nose, and that this led me to clench my teeth together. Seems that my study and training in lengthening the breath didn't help me in this moment. Even though I was in the pool and swimming, I found myself resisting the experience. My friend at one point said to me, "Relax, we're in the pool. It's supposed to be fun!" And at once, my yoga practice came to mind.
Often enough, I find myself resisting an experience on the mat for whatever reason. I come to class, I'm on my mat, sweating and stretching and working to bring my body-mind into alignment, but somewhere I will resist. This usually shows up in my inversion practice and especially in handstand. I will start telling myself all the things I don't have yet (my triceps aren't spiraling enough... my arms aren't straight enough, etc.) and I will eventually come out of the pose feeling unsuccessful.
When I see this as I teach, I tell my students to focus on their exhales. They say that if you focus on really emptying the breath, the inhale will come. Exhaling allows the physical body to soften, to filter out carbon dioxide and other toxins, and helps to ease the mind. My teacher, Sigrid Matthews, told me once that when we find ourself in patterns of resistance, it is best to keep working with the breath, and to really recognize that we are resisting. So even by simply noting to ourselves, "Ok, right now, I am resisting this," will be enough to start shifting this pattern into something that is more life-enhancing.
When I applied this to myself in the pool, my physical being changed. My facial muscles relaxed, my breath release was slower and more even. Though I wasn't able to stay under as long as I wanted,I was more relaxed and able to laugh at myself as I remembered how to do something I did with ease years ago.
Viva la resistance, readers! Then empty your breath ;)