From Dandasana, Staff Pose, I bring the sole of my right foot to the floor on the outside of the left thigh. The muscles in my hip call to me tentatively, asking if they can trust and relax or if they need to clench in fear of what I might ask them to do next. I bend my left knee, tucking my left foot near my right buttock. Breathing in, I bring my left arm up near my left ear. My hips are quieter now; I have given them no need to fight me. My body continues its journey towards Half Lord of the Fishes. I exhale, twisting my right arm, bringing my left elbow outside my right knee and placing my right palm to the floor, just behind my sit bones. Now twist, I command. The moment I think about what I am doing instead of flowing into it with muscle memory and body wisdom, every muscle that has trusted me so far and moved willingly in the direction of the pose seems to stop obeying me. My intellectual mind has taken over, and once again I am reminded of its limitations. I am flopping on the mat. I know from experience that Half Lord of the Fishes will elude me until I stop thinking and allow my thoughts to course through my body moving the muscles involved in the pose. My thoughts, without training, are wild horses. Sometimes they stampede, sometimes they charge, always they carry me with them. They take me to places I have been before. Some are pleasant to revisit, most are not. My yoga practice helps me to train these wild horses and keeps me away from the negative places I have visited too often before. The moving meditation of the poses harnesses my attention to my body, one muscle, one sinew, one joint at a time until several are teamed together to create a pose, much like thoughts generate actions and create karma. Movements turn into poses that make way for other poses and eventually Savasana,much as thoughts arise and can pass away if they are not grasped too tightly. For me, yoga is an authentic practice. I like to compare it to other ways of focusing my life, finding the truth that lies beyond facts and figures. Miao Tsan says:
Authentic practice is not confined to meditation, Zen inquiry, contemplation of Buddha, recitation of scripture, mantra practice with visualization and mudra, or prostration and repentance. It encompasses every instance of mind functioning that arises in daily life. We walk the spiritual path continually in our lives, cultivating it in our daily encounters, in every aspect of life, in each moment of thought arising that presents us with the opportunity to train the mind. (p.238)
I can tame these horses. With practice. I look out over my right shoulder, and from my belly, I begin to twist. Inhaling, I draw my spine long and exhaling, I take the twist deeper. My thoughts arise, but before they have words to burden them, I send their energy to my spine. As I’m twisting, stretching, they’re flowing up and down my back, shooting off energy from each vertebra into the surrounding tissue. I am on the mat, I have always been on the mat, and I will be on the mat forever. My body knows when to release the pose. Letting it lead me, I move into a counter twist, and prepare to repeat it on the other side. I am Half Lord of the Fishes.