To celebrate the first day of summer and to beckon the light and heat therein, I spent Wednesday morning doing a traditional practice of 108 sun salutations. The practice was held at Evolutions and was led by our fabulous Suzanne Cary, who broke the practice into four sets of 27, with some stretching poses in between. The practice was an offering: the first set was dedicated to ourselves, the second to someone we love, the third to someone who challenges us, and the fourth to the planet and universe at large.
I’ve done similar practices before–I’m a big fan of dedications and deep intentions in yoga asana practice (the movement part)–but on this day I had some insights that were more clear than average; perhaps the sheer number of salutations increased the power of the insights. I noticed that the first offering felt nourishing: “Ahhh, this feels good. I will receive.” That’s positive–receiving is something I’m working on. (Anyone else? Can I get an Amen?) The second dedication–to someone we love–was a joy, especially because my psyche kept offering up more and more people I adore. In the past, in similar exercises, I’ve made myself stay focused on one person, working on honing the mind and reducing distraction. But on this day I enjoyed the beautiful show as a new person came with literally each and every of the 27 salutations: “Oh, Uncle Peter! Of course! … Ahh, hi Maria! Love you!” What a gift. And then on the third set, where we focused on people who challenge us, I noticed something interesting: many of the people were the same. “Hello again, dear father…Oh, hi, my sweet son…Nephew! You again!” Now the idea that those we love tend to also be those who challenge us most is not new to me, but the experiential understanding that came from this exercise was very powerful. The somatic experience so fully matching what I believe in my head helped me to see, feel and absorb that theses are deep truths and not just personal beliefs. This softens my frustration with those who challenge me, and also allows me to settle into a place where I don’t need to resist the fact that my loved ones push my buttons. Consciously or subconsciously, we are often saddened, angered, or embarrassed by this fact, as if something is wrong with the fact that most of our meaningful relationships are also hard as hell in their own various ways.
Another awesome somatic insight I had was just how much harder the sun salutations were when I was focusing on those who challenge me, as compared to the next round, when I put my attention on love for the planet and those on it. The former felt something like “man my wrists are really starting to hurt…I’d better step up and back instead of jumping, there’s a lot more to go…” And then on round four–when I “should have” been most fatigued–with a love for the universe in mind, I felt as though radiance and joy were bursting forth from my movements. “Jumping feels good! … Ahhh, moving meditation, so sacred and sweet … Are we done already?” Again, the idea isn’t new to me: when we focus on the negative we contract throughout all of our layers, and when we do that, nothing flows very well, muscles hurt, the mind narrows, the psyche feels fear instead of expansion. But again, having this experience in my body as well as my mind was profound. I mean, to have energy just come out of nowhere and fuel you like a jet with one simple shift of focus? That’s some far-out shit!
(If I keep up my yoga, maybe one day I’ll be able to focus on things that piss me off and not contract in any way… Maybe one day nothing will piss me off… But I digress…)
This is all one simple example of movement therapy, of the “Big Yoga”–how when the mind and body work together we get more understanding than when we try to focus on things with the head alone. We evolve more deeply by inviting our body, our very cells, into the practice of self-study, or svadyaya. Thank you, self, for knowing you could do 108 sun salutations. Thank you Yoga. Thank you, summer, with your shining beams of clarity.