By Rachel Grey
Feeling our body can be a meditation, it’s a way of being present ~ animals and children are mostly always in their body, feeling it from the inside, and it’s often the instruction I’ll begin a yoga class with, along with listening. Feeling is like listening with our whole being. It’s common that outer alignment of the body is emphasised so often and in so much detail in yoga, yet not much focus is placed on what is going on internally. Indeed, how the breath ‘should’ be how the body ‘should’ look, move and which parts should align with which to fit in with some western anatomical ideal, but what about how it feels?
Some guidelines on how it should feel would give much more room for each person practicing to their own capacity, and surely we need less emphasis on how we look to everybody else, especially in the yoga class?
Noticing how the body feels in each moment rather than aiming to look like this months Yoga Journal cover shot can be used as a meditation in itself in and outside of class, it can bring awareness to how emotions manifest themselves in the body and relate to sensations and situations throughout the day. What the energy and psychological patterns are within and how they affect one another and our behaviour, but above all to bring awareness of what is presently going on, and bring us into a conscious state of awareness.
So how should the body feel?
Well there are some variations with each Asana obviously, a deep back bend is going to feel intense for many, and indeed a deep forward bend for some, or arm balance for others. But gradually all will begin to feel more balanced and with time and practice generate less intense feelings of attachment, aversion or perhaps less emotional surges, with the mind remaining more equanimous throughout.
Feeling the body in an Asana practice can be a way of guiding us, seeing how the mind operates, how the energy moves through the body and indeed the sensations in the body which give us clues as to where we are in terms of our ‘edge’. The edge, I like to call it the edge of our comfort zone, the comfort zone being were we obviously feel safe and comfortable we may feel little to no sensations at all in our comfort zone. And while this zone is important to have and come back to some times when we need it, it is not the best place to ‘hang out’ all the time in our practice as we can eventually become lethargic, tamasic, experiencing little to no transformation at all.
If we move a little deeper into the Asana, the edge of that zone is where discomfort begins, and this is the magical place that allows change to happen, the place we feel a little stuck or confronted, once we stay for a while and breathe, eventually it allows our horizons to broaden and our awareness to expand beyond it’s usual ruts, limitations, and habits and freedom to arise. These are are some of the things we enjoy from practice. But beware if we keep on pushing, we come into pain, there is no sense in pushing into extreme pain as it obviously can lead to injury.
All of us have different pain thresholds, but being on the edge of where we can manage the sensations calmly (even if only appearing so on the outside!) and breathe fairly well (extreme strength asanas maybe slightly excluded here!) is ideal. When on the edge of our comfort zone and breathing well, we can observe the edge, how it is not a static thing, and get to see it literally moving and opening in front of our very own eyes to reveal to us a widening of this comfort zone, personally I find this is a lovely feeling, a little addictive and is one of the reasons I practice becuase it feels so good!
(and careful as we can sit in this ‘new comfort zone’ just as easily, and if we stay too long indeed can become tamasic again)
The sensations of the body arising during practice are usually a good sign, good pain is similar to receiving a good massage, or adjustment, new sensations arising in new parts of the body generally are a sign that the practice is doing it’s work and sometimes can be interpreted as ‘pain’ or ‘opening’ as some like to call them. Usually along the edge of our awareness pattern, where we find it ‘easy’ to be, if we go deeper, we come into contact with our difficult areas. It’s very easy to label this area as ‘pain’ and avoid it, or go to the other extreme to push past it with impatience trying to avoid it in a different way, but this gets us nowhere or possibly injured and the real work is to find the magical edge by moving one millimetre at a time.
Once there, it feels like negative or excess energy is being channelled away to release from the difficult stiff painful area of the body, out through the throat and nose and gets carried out into the atmosphere like fumes through an exhaust pipe. It feels like a letting go and surrendering to a higher intelligence that is responsible for breathing and keeping the heart beating. It feels like pleasure and pain begin to merge into something in between. Neither here nor there, between two polar opposites. Neither black or white, not nameable or describable. It feels like a softening of the shell of the outer body whilst drawing energy deeper into the inner body. Feels like Yoga.