I LOVE cupcakes. For my birthday each year my mom used to make her special black chocolate cupcakes with piles of rich, creamy, marshmallowy frosting. The cake was so deliciously moist and fluffy. And the frosting? Words can't even come close to describing how amazing the frosting was. Sugary but not too sweet. Sticky like a big 'ol melted marshmallow. Vanilla-y. Am I making your mouth water?
There's a wonderfully pithy Zen saying: "The menu is not the meal". As hard as I may try to describe the experience of eating one of my mom's cupcakes, as tasty as a meal might be described, or as mouthwatering as it might be illustrated, we can never fully understand or savor its flavor if we do not physically ingest it bite-by-bite ourselves.
Similarly, we practice yoga not to get an idea of peace, but to experience peace itself. The pose alone is not the practice. The breath by itself? Theory? Philosophy? Nope, not the full practice. A yoga teacher can offer wisdom, detailed intellectual theory, instructions, variations, encouragement, and describe beautifully what connecting with the breath, the energy, or the intention of a pose is like. However, you will not understand any of these things or be nourished by them until you fully live them. In short, teachers can offer the menu but not the meal itself.
As practitioners our work is to mindfully experience, taste, and savor each pose, each breath, and each moment of silence. We are encouraged to relish in and connect with the the deeper currents of energy beneath the surface of our own downward facing dogs. We need to feel our own roots digging deep into the earth in our warrior poses, or experience the resistance (or joy) in bending backwards or following the breath into stillness. We are encouraged to absorb and experience each bit of wisdom. We alone are responsible for chewing up and mindfully digesting each morsel and moment of our practice whether it be asana, pranayama, or mindful meditation. To really understand these things we must live, feel and move with them.
"A symphony is not explained by a mathematical analysis of its notes... and no one ever understood the wonder of a bird on the wing by stuffing it and putting it in a glass case. To understand these things, you must live and move with them as they are alive. The same is true of the universe: no amount of intellectual analysis will explain it, for philosophy and science can only reveal its mechanism, never its meaning..." (Alan Watts)
When we come to our yoga mats, we are in essence seated at the table awaiting a delectable meal. Teachers can create a menu, lovingly prepare the recipes for physical and spiritual growth, light the candles and create a soothing atmosphere, but they can't actually nourish you, taste or digest the food unless YOU eat the feast yourself.
Like Jon Kabat-Zinn says in Letting Everything Become Your Teacher: "Cultivating mindfulness is not unlike the process of eating. It would be absurd to propose that someone else eat for you. And when you go to a restaurant, you don’t eat the menu, mistaking it for the meal, nor are you nourished by listening to the waiter describe the food. You have to actually eat the food for it to nourish you. In the same way, you have to actually practice mindfulness in order to reap its benefits and come to understand why it is so valuable."
We begin to delight in the physical, emotional and spiritual meal placed before us by linking our movement with the length of our deep, long breath. When the breath, body and mind move together we taste, feel and absorb the flavor of life as it unfolds.
Until next time... try this:
by Shiva Rea
Meditation invokes a shift in consciousness, whether it be in stillness or action. Movement meditation can be a very accessible way to restore the equilibrium of the mind. When you are in the midst of your day and your mind is restless or disturbed, doing this simple movement meditation can create an immediate shift in conciousness, enabling you to bring greater awareness and peace into the world around you.
The following meditation is based upon the opening movements of Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation. The linking of the breath with the archetypal arm movements—expanding the arms upward on the inhalation and then contracting them down the center line of your spine on the exhalation—taps into the basic rhythm of life that defines our moment-to-moment reality. Our breath and our heartbeat both follow this expand-and-contract movement. The grounding force of gravity which is part of apana or "downward force" corresponds with the pulling of the arms toward the earth; a rebound effect is felt in the drawing upwards of the arms with the inhalation.
This meditation can be done while seated or standing. To begin, bring your hands together at your heart, in anjali mudra. Take a moment to become receptive by shifting from thinking mind to listening mind. Scan your body and mind and ask yourself how you are feeling. Take note of the answer (scattered, irritated, tired, excited) without investing or analyzing the content.
Now, on an inhalation, draw your arms overhead from the roots of your feet. Coordinate your breath with the movement so that at the top of your inhalation, your hands come together overhead. As you exhale, draw your arms down the center line of your spine so that your arms rest beside your hips when you complete your exhalation.
Repeat this rhythm, drawing upward on the inhalation and downward on the exhalation for as long as it feels appropriate, probably somewhere between three to five minutes. Concentrate on merging your breath and movement and being present every moment.
Notice as your movement and breath start to syncopate that your internal state begins to shift. As your breath slows down with the grace of your movement, feel your inner balance returning. When you feel a natural urge to end, take one last cycle with the arms and then draw your hands together at your heart. Take a few moments of to quietly reflect before returning to the movements of your life, more centered and enlivened by your movement meditation.
How To Eat a Poem
by Eve Merriam
Don't be polite.
Pick it up with your fingers and lick the juice that
may run down your chin.
It is ready and ripe now, whenever you are. You do not need a knife or fork or spoon
or plate or napkin or tablecloth.
For there is no core
to throw away.