I was taught, practice & teach Yoga asana sequences with stops between postures and groups of postures. Stops are an opportunity for me to observe what is happening in my body, to recollect into awareness my experience of postures I just completed, to let my breath settle and to make a conscious choice when to move into the next postures. Stops can be peaceful waits and they can be disturbing.
I gained more insight to these stops as a Yoga teacher. As a teacher I am privileged to be dominantly in a role of observer. Observing a group of practitioners who have just stopped moving is amusing and inspiring time and again. I see people scratching, organizing their clothes, looking around … it’s as if there is a group effort to avoid stillness. Pointing this out affects people differently. Some people will collect themselves and become still, others will switch to other, more subtle twitching movements. In some cases the twitching is so subtle that people don’t notice it at all. I’ve stood next to a practitioner who’s entire body is still – but the fingertips are moving nervously – as if playing on some invisible instrument – while they were convinced they were perfectly still.
Some disturbances, such as straightening a shirt are rooted in habit, others are an indication of nervous energy in the body (which can be expected after energetic practices). Either way, they can be very slippery and difficult to catch. Trying to catch them is also a disturbing activity which can actually make them worse. This is an opportunity to a soft and gradual learning process:
- Notice your movements – be curious about them, this is a big first step – and will usually have a short term tempering affect.
- Observe their fruits – though you may not be conscious of it, your movements satisfy something – it can be a shyness about your body, deeply rooted mannerisms, physical discomfort, an agitated mind … ask yourself what your movements have achieved for you.
- Notice your impulses to move – movement is preceded by an impulse to move – there is an impulse for straightening your shirt that comes before you actually do it.
- Recognize an option for choice – there is a window of opportunity between and impulse and an action to make a choice. Usually there is a default choice that is to act on an impulse, but you may come to realize that there is an opportunity to make another choice.
These “disturbances” are expressions of deeper patterns – their physical manifestation is an ending of a process that is rooted in deep motivations. Instead of insisting on subduing them you can try and stay with them until some more information about their true nature appears before you. Follow them patiently and they will lead you into deeper learning and subtle change. Stillness can be much more then an absence of disturbances.
I recall reading a speech given by Sting in which he suggests that silence between sounds is as much a part of music as the sounds themselves. Similarly, to experience and appreciate the melody of Yoga we need to develop stillness as well as movement.