Friday, March 14, 2014

The Yoga Microcosm

What if your yoga mat had no borders? What if your yoga studio had no walls? 

What if your breath ceased to be yours alone and got lost in the collective respiration of your fellow students, your friends, your family, your office, your entire community? In fact, it does! We know our breathing is tied in with the other animals and the plants around us in an exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide that allows for cellular respiration and photosynthesis. Our breath is connected to the cycle of life happening within and around us. In fact, our own bodies and our breath are microcosms of the life of our entire planet. 

On some level, almost everything we do, every place we go and everything we have is a kind of microcosm for something that exists on a larger scale. As yogis, this includes our practice. Just this morning as I was contemplating teaching a class based on yoga as microcosm, this quote popped up in my newsfeed: "The whole world is your yoga mat!" Of course, Judith Hanson Lasater posted this because I can't seem to stop quoting her these days, but any of my fellow students or teaching colleagues could have said it: it's a recurring theme in yoga. 

I like this definition of microcosm from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary: something (such as a place or an event) that is seen as a version of something much larger, and then the following full definition:
1. a little world; especially, the human race, or human nature seen as an epitome of the world or the universe;
2. a community or other unity that is an epitome of a larger unity. 

I do think of my yoga mat as a little world unto itself, with all of the bacteria, dirt and other microorganisms we find on my floor at home or at the gym or the yoga studio (yikes), and I certainly see the reflection of the larger community in the places where I teach and practice. 

This week I want to take these obvious microcosmic relationships a step further to envision one group class as a microcosm for the practice of yoga over our lifetimes. Each time we come to our mat there is a natural progression to the practice. We go through stages in each yoga class, such as a time for centering, a time for breathing and meditation, a time for flowing standing postures, a time for an inversion and/or backbend, a time for a spinal twist, then moving onto a restorative posture and resting in savasana. Quite obviously, we also progress through inevitable stages over our lifetime: infancy, childhood, adolescence, adulthood (young adult, middle aged adult and advanced age). 

How would it be to consciously structure a practice around smooth transitions through each stage of our life? That's what I want to find out. I am motivated to do this after a recent workshop given at the studio where I teach, based on yoga for each stage in our development. 

The traditional Sanskrit yoga terms for the three stages of our life are vrddhi (growth/youth), sthiti (stability/middle age) and laya (dissolution, absorption/old age); past and present yoga sages recommend adapting yoga practice to suit the stage we're in biologically and also the stage we identify with mentally (so you could be a middle aged person identifying more with youthful growth and vigor and want your practice to contain balanced components of both sthiti and vrddhi; or you could be a young person needing to find the centering effects of meditation and spiritual focus, balancing laya and vrddhi). 

Envisioning yoga practice as a microcosm for my life leads me to follow a progression of vrddhi, sthiti and laya each time I come to my mat. I think we can do this not only as individuals, but in a group setting with mixed ages, because no matter how old we are, we're all experienced in moving through progressive life stages. 

So how would this class look? As with any class, first we'd find a way to settle in and connect with ourselves and our intention of carving out a specific space and time for yoga. 1. Prepare: take a posture of stillness and receptivity. Then, we'd move on to building up our bodies and energy levels to grow into a blended movement practice (asana, vinyasa). 2. Grow: build the energy through breath and structured movement, rising to a crescendo of activity. Finally, we'd start to focus our activity inward once more and allow the stabilizing effects of our practice to settle in the body and mind. 3. Absorb: slow down, internalize and rest. This is the usual progression we follow in classes, without framing the practice as a metaphor for the arc of our life. 

This week I want us to purposefully connect to yoga practice as a microcosm of our life. Our efforts on the mat symbolize and extend to the whole of our lives and our communities. Remembering this adds joy and focus to the practice. Namaste

No comments:

Post a Comment