Patanjali's Yoga Sutra 1.12
Through diligent effort and non-attachment to results, we will settle our mind. (My loose translation.)
This sutra has been sticking with me these past several weeks, particularly the notion of vairāgya, or non-attachment to results. I have read, memorized and chanted this sutra for years now but, for most of the time, it was just words. I suspect I could have been chanting Mary Had A Little Lamb for all that I understood it or believed it. And yet, suddenly the opportunities to release my hold, my expectations, on getting my desired results have been piling up. They have been piling up so high that even I have had to stop and take notice.
This non-attachment to results aims directly at the heart of my ambitions for myself so it takes nearly an metaphorical anvil falling on my head for me to pay attention. Indeed, I have worked extremely hard for most of my life to deliberately NOT pay attention because paying attention might mean that I will have to give up some long-held beliefs, and, seriously, who wants to do that? I won't catalogue the list for you (you're welcome!) but I do want to describe one situation. I want to describe it because it involves yoga asana practice.
Believe or not, I frequently question the validity of yoga asana. Why is it any different from general stretching or acrobatics? There is enough written about the history of contemporary asana practice as we have come to know it to show that it isn't divorced from Westernized ideas about health through physical fitness. If my goal is to settle my mind, why am I putting my legs behind my head almost everyday? I may have a slight (ahem!) exercise addiction and it is possible that I am a little vain about the current state of my abs (ahem, again!), so I am not unaware that yoga asana is feeding some less than healthy states of mind for me. So why? Why do it?
Here's why I do it (abs and addictions aside). The past two mornings, I have gone into my Mysore class in Manhattan. It is just south of Times Square and walking through Times Square each morning is nothing less than a major yoga practice all its own, let me tell you! But I digress. Yesterday, my teacher pointed out how I was holding my pelvis in an certain asana. In fact, I was doing this particular action in every asana but, for whatever reason, it actually became clear to me at that moment and I shifted. It almost makes me want to cry to even write about what happened. It was so subtle and so immense. I shifted and something somewhere near my sacrum released and when it released, it was like a monumental "ahhhhhhhhh." It was like years of tension and misguided effort and teeth-clenching and striving melted away. Not only did my psoas release (which is what I think actually happened), but a large muscle up my spine released, which took a lot of pressure off of a lot of nerves. All that tension meant that I had been in pain pretty much all the time but it was so constant that I didn't even know I was in pain until it went away.
And I am pretty sure it wasn't just physical pain either.
Today, it released more. Not only is my asana practice feeling different, simply walking around feels totally different. Here's the thing - I had no idea! The person who is supposedly so tuned into her body had no idea that I was carrying around that much tension all the time. Damn! This, my friends, is why we do asana practice.
So what about vairāgya? Once that tension released, I didn't want to go back to my usual practice. I need time to integrate what happened and this means I scaled back practice to something that looks much simpler and "easier" than what I normally do. Even a month ago, I would be having anxiety about doing less and not achieving more, not marching forward towards the great goal. You know...the goal! Don't ask me what the goal is because it's always been right there - just outside of my line of sight, just beyond my grasp.
So today, I did LESS than I am capable of and it was okay. It was good even. And I thought about my Zen practice and my art career and my yoga teaching and my parenting and all my relationships, and I thought, however it is going right now - it's enough. It's plenty! It's plenty and it is enough. I don't need to fix anything or add anything or achieve anything or get rid of anything. There is nowhere to go, nothing to cover up and there is no goal.
May all beings release their psoas and realize the great wisdom that comes from a balanced sacrum!