I'm guessing that some of you out there might be getting a little sick of reading my quotes from Eckhart Tolle in my posts over the last two weeks. Well, if you are... I'm sorry that you are. But I blog about what I am thinking about, and what I am thinking about at any given moment is often informed by what I am reading at the time. But I don't just randomly quote what I am reading either. I try to pick quotes that are more or less yoga-related, or can be related to the practice in one way or another.
But anyhow, I read something in A New Earth yesterday that really pertains very directly to the practice. Tolle talks about cultivating inner body awareness as a way of moving beyond identification with the body. Through cultivating inner body awareness, you can gradually shift your attention "from the external form of your body and from thoughts about your body--beautiful, ugly, strong, weak, too fat, too thin--to the feeling of aliveness inside it. No matter what your body's appearance is on the outer level, beyond the outer form it is an intensely alive energy field."
'If you are not familiar with "inner body" awareness, close your eyes for a moment and find out if there is life inside your hands. Don't ask your mind. It will say, "I can't feel anything." Probably it will also say, "Give me something more interesting to think about." So instead of asking your mind, go to the hands directly. By this I mean become aware of the subtle feeling of aliveness inside them. It is there. You just have to go there with your attention to notice it. You may get a slight tingling sensation at first, then a feeling of energy or aliveness. If you hold your attention in your hands for a while, the sense of aliveness will intensify... Then go to your feet, keep your attention there for a minute or so, and begin to feel your hands and feet at the same time. Then incorporate other parts of the body--legs, arms, abdomen, chest, and so on--into that feeling until you are aware of the inner body as a global sense of aliveness.'
Lying in bed last night, I tried this exercise in inner body awareness, starting with the hands and feet and then moving into the rest of the body, as Tolle suggests. It felt really good to be so aware of the entire body. Actually, the feeling is a bit similar to the kind of calm feeling that I get during my acupuncture sessions. I'm starting to think that this inner body awareness may be what Taichi practitioners are trying to cultivate when they work on cultivating chi or life energy during their Taichi exercises. Very interesting.
This morning, I also tried to see if I can bring the same level of inner body awareness to the practice. Starting from Ekam position in Surya A, I brought my attention to the hands as I raised them over my head. And then to the hands and the feet as I went into downward dog in Shad position. I was able to maintain a reasonably high level of body awareness throughout Suryas A and B. And then, without quite knowing it, I lost this awareness as I went into more challenging postures. I realized that, without knowing it, as I got further into the practice and encountered more challenging postures, my focus had shifted from simply being aware of the body to using the body to do this or that posture. In other words, I had shifted from a state of simply being to a state of doing; in so doing, I was no longer so aware of the body as it simply is. Or, to put it in slightly more fancy terms, I was no longer with the is-ness of the body in the present moment.
Herein lies the dilemma: For most of us, the practice consists of postures of varying degrees of physical difficulty. Thus it seems that for most of us, the only way to be totally aware of the body as it is in the present moment without asking or expecting anything of it would be to stop the practice at the precise moment when it becomes physically challenging. But that would mean that most of us would have to do practices that are way shorter than what they are right now. For me, I might have to stop practicing somewhere around Utthita or Parivrtta Parsvakonasana! I mean, I'm not sure if it would ever be possible for me to do, say, Kapotasana while being totally present in every part of the body as it is without asking or expecting anything of it. Then again, isn't this what Sthira Sukha Asanam ("Asana is effort without tension, relaxation without dullness") mean? Maybe it will come one day. Dirgha Kala...
Do you have any thoughts on this? How do you balance (i) being with the body in the present moment and (ii) getting the body to do this or that challenging posture in the practice?