… Even Though Yoga’s Not Just About Asana
“It is through the body that everything comes to the mind. It is through and with your body that you have to reach realization of being a spark of divinity. How can we neglect the temple of the spirit?” — B.K.S. Iyengar (Sparks of Divinity, Rodmell Press)
When I first read Iyengar’s quote many years ago I interpreted this way: It is through our practice of asana, at those times when we lose the struggle and become the asana, that we see into our true nature, the undefined spaciousness that connects us all. This still rings true for me. Asana, if we practice with complete commitment to being fully in each moment, can offer a glimpse into the the free and settled mind that is intrinsic to all of us.
Why Body Awareness is Key
As I was preparing to teach a segment on the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness for a local teacher training a while back I began contemplating anew the connection between mind and body and discovered another way in which this quote rings true.
The first of the four foundations is mindfulness of the body. Those of us who have delved deep into meditation can sometimes begin to see all things related to the body as subservient to the freedom of the mind. But as the years have passed, I’ve come to realize that awareness of the body is the key to the freedom of the mind.
The body is not just a gross vehicle that transports our minds from one place to another. The body is the window to everything we experience—everything. We perceive the world around us through our bodies, through sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch. Everything we encounter, whether or not we’re conscious of it—registers as a sensation in our bodies. If we are ever to be mindful, we must drop below the level of thinking about our experience to being directly present with our actual experience. In order to do this, we must direct our bare attention to our bodies.
Here’s another point: Our bodies are always in the present. They can not be otherwise. If you want to be present, tune into your body.
It’s incredibly simple, but I will never claim that it’s easy. Most of us have practiced thinking, either consciously or unconsciously, our entire lives. As anyone who has sat down to meditate knows, our minds are constantly flitting from one thought to another like the Buddha’s proverbial metaphor, a wild monkey leaping from tree to tree.
Even thinking can be linked to sensations in our bodies. We can tune into these sensations and propel ourselves right back into the present, even when the thought tapes are running at full volume. So when you notice you’re lost in thought, try this: Don’t try to banish the thoughts. Just let them be. Instead, shift your awareness away from the tale your thoughts are weaving to whatever arises in your body while your mind is running wild.
If You’ve Got a Body, You Can Be Present
Through our sense experiences, we connect directly to each moment. In each moment that we fully connect, we are temporarily free of the thoughts and beliefs that disconnect us from the measureless infinity that we are. All this because we live in these bodies. And the best thing about this is that we all have one; living in a body is not just for the privileged few. It doesn’t matter whether we’re old, young, small, large, healthy or unhealthy.
In his classic book, Being Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests a body awareness meditation based on these phrases:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.
Here’s a link to more info about this wonderful practice. Reflect on how fortunate you are to live in this body. It does take you from one place to another. It gives you access to everything that is without and everything that is within. And through it, you just might realize you are a spark of divinity.
I love the idea of not arguing with the mind — but rather shifting the focus to the body sensations. Having just come from a yin yoga class, your thoughts resonated with my mind and body. Charlotte, as always, thank you for sharing your insights and giving us new things to ponder — and things to reconnect with, as in … yes, I know that! Shanti, Yael
Thanks for your thoughts, Yael. I was so happy to hear Joseph Goldstein talk so much about the importance of being present in the body when I sat a retreat with him last summer. It was something I’d been focusing on for a while, but to hear it from someone of his wisdom and experience was great confirmation. As I said in the article, the body is always in the present. Everyone has access to body awareness in every moment. That’s the most inspiring part to me.