Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Find your edge. Look over it. Don't jump off of it.

Lets say all kinds of light bulbs went off yesterday and you found your compassionate mind. You use it when you are standing in line for coffee. You ask if it is the compassionate choice to spend the $5 on a latte, knowing that it will be painful at the end of the month, causing stress and anxiety when you go to pay your rent. This impacts how you feel about you, your ability to save and spend wisely, this affects your relationships, this affects your ability to let your kids go to skate camp if they want to.

Your compassionate mind is not at work. Your automatic mind is not allowing you to let discomfort be your most tender teacher.
You order a drip instead of a latte. You feel warm, loved, cared for, content when you make this choice. You just put $50 back in your bank account over the next week. It is the compassionate choice.

How else can you use your compassionate mind?

In Yoga, we talk about going to your place of benefit. On the mat, it works like this:

In each posture, go only to your place of benefit on that day in that posture and go no further. Never sacrifice depth in a posture for alignment.

Its easy to say this, its harder to live it. Our western minds like the idea of being excellent at something. Of being best in the class, better than the person next to us. We get some satisfaction in excelling. We like to have our successes seen and lauded. If we aren't doing as well as we believe we can, we often want people to know it.

We throw our tennis rackets, or we roll our eyes or we sigh loudly, or we shake our heads. All of these silent (or not so silent) signals to whoever might be watching that we are frustrated because usually, we are better than this.

What if you were able to lay down your ego attachment, your idea that it matters what other people think, how they judge you, and then, even better, how you judge yourself?

What if in each moment, you did only what you needed to do according to how your body was feeling on that day. What if you could find the Ultimate Expression of the posture for YOU on that day in that moment?

The Ultimate Expression exists. You've seen pictures. Its Seth Morrison hucking off the cliff. Its Shane McConkey's back flip. Its Kelly Wade putting her toes on her head. Its Kate Giampapa flying Amanda in the air. Its Sharon Caplian in full extension. Its your best friend getting straight A's without studying.

The reason that an Ultimate Expression exists in yoga postures is because yoga is a life long activity. And as you age, and you continue your practice, your body changes. And over time as your body changes, you need a lamp post to head towards. A beacon. Its like a fairy light, a destination that is always moving further away as you approach it.

We in the west tend to think of the Ultimate Expression as a benchmark for how "good" we are at Yoga. A lot of us want to compare our ability to get close to the ultimate expression when we first begin our practice as a benchmark for our innate talent at yoga.

And you can be "Good" at yoga. But not because on your first day you can put your head on your knee. As one of my favorite teachers said, you aren't going to reach enlightenment when you can put your head on the floor. There's another step after that one, anyway.

You can be good at yoga because you practice the right way.

Because you have the discipline to look for your Place of Benefit and go with full commitment to that place but NOT PAST IT.

Past his place of benefit and unaware of it, most likely. The enticing goal of getting head to knee is tempting him past his place of benefit. His standing leg is bent, he has sacrificed the entire benefit of the posture for the goal of being "good" at it. Unfortunately, this is how you get hurt in yoga. You go past your place of benefit in search of victory. 
My little sister travels in the summer. She goes all over the world, and as she goes, she practices yoga. Recently, she was in Israel practicing. The studio where she had just bought an introductory week long pass was having some internet difficulty. My sister is a bit of a SEO genius. She offered to help the studio. They happily agreed. In exchange, they'd give her a free month of yoga.

Unfortunately, before they could have their first meeting, the week was expiring. My sister's yoga practice is important to her. She was worried. Would she have to find that $130 to practice for the month?

The studio told her, "Don't worry, we'll start your month and we can meet next week."

My sister asked the owner, "How do you know that's a good choice for you? What if I don't keep my end of the bargain? How can you trust me?"

The studio owner answered, "Oh, its okay, we've seen your practice. We know it will be fine."

Now, my sister has a beautiful practice. She does not go to the ultimate expression, she is a beginner. She's been doing Bikram for about a year. She tries the right way, in every posture, finding her place of benefit, all the time.

Sometimes, her place of benefit is in child's pose on the floor sitting out the posture. But this is a choice she makes by and for herself, without showing drama on her face, or pulling anyone off their mat and onto hers while she makes the choice to back off. She just sees her edge and backs off.

The amazing Sharon Caplain likes to say, "Find your edge. Look over it. Don't jump off of it."

We all want to try our hardest.  But how do you know you are trying your hardest? Can you tell because you are trembling, and sweating and breathing so hard? Maybe you are trying physically your hardest with your muscles. But there is more to practice, and more to life than that.

What if it is hardest for you to pay attention to your injury in your knee? What if its the hardest to back off in general because you had a huge day already? Do you need to announce to the world that you hiked up smuggler and then rode your bike to Basalt and back or can you just do your practice for yourself to your place of benefit on this day and let that be enough? Can you LAY DOWN YOUR EGO? And rather than being defeated by your injury, you come to class anyway and focus on how to go to your place of benefit with your knee in mind?

Now you are trying your hardest, but you aren't trembling and shaking.

Do you miss trembling and shaking? Do you like to tremble and shake because that tells the teacher you are trying hard?

What if you didn't need to tell the teacher, and everyone else in the room, with your body and your breath that you are trying your hardest? What if you just know it internally? What if you were enough for you, and your practice was about you, your health, your strength?

What if being good at yoga meant being dedicated to finding your place of benefit in each posture, according to how your body felt on that day?

Everyone to their place of benefit and no further. A room full of mindful practice. Bliss, joy and FREEDOM exist in discipline of this kind. 
Over time, when you have a dedicated yoga practice, you get popped into the big picture. You see your body evolving over time. You see that on one day, your legs are tight, and on the next, you stretch more than ever. You see your body staying the same for three weeks and suddenly opening for a week. You realize that you are never going backwards because over time, your body is changing. Internally.

Your ability to metabolize waste is changing, your patience is changing, your concentration is changing, your equanimity is changing. And your hamstrings are changing.

So you have this huge moment of relief when you realize, its not about me stretching an inch more today than I did yesterday, or an inch more than the person next to me. Its about finding excellence in the discipline to try the right way.

And when I try the right way, I am full of compassion for myself, and my body is rewarded with a safe, strengthening, liberating practice.

And then you walk off the mat and you ask yourself, where is my place of benefit today? In the office, on the hike, on the phone. It leads you back to the compassionate choice. And from here, there is security and solidity, a willingness to explore the unknown, because you can trust yourself to come from the compassionate place.

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