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Yoga = Will

Practice Notes

by David Nelson

Back in the 90’s I practiced Bikram Yoga in a small studio in the Castro.  I usually ended up practicing in front of a big, brown antiquated furnace that felt like it would sear your skin off if you got too close.  The room was stifling hot, and from the moment I entered, half my mind (the logical half) wanted to turn and leave. The other half insisted that I stay, that I would survive, and that I would be better for it.  I don’t recall ever actually packing up and leaving, but I do recall the great relief I would feel when I could put aside the argument between my opposing desires to leave or stay; when I could resolve the duality between my will to practice and my will to leave. This struggle has reared its ugly head in my practice again, but now I find it more complex.

First, I gave myself permission to sleep in one morning, which meant that rather than making a habit of going to my practice, I put myself in the role of having to decide each morning if I was going to practice.  When I did go to practice, the dialog didn’t stop, “my neck hurts, maybe I shouldn’t do this….,” or “I didn’t get enough sleep last night, maybe I should ‘honor what my body is telling me’ and take the morning off….” Then one morning a couple of weeks ago it really came to head. My back was bothering me throughout the practice and when I got to Urdhva Dhanurasana my dialog became a back spasm.  A somatic crisis.

We learn that the very name of our practice, hatha yoga, implies a resolution of will and surrender.  I’ve never had teachers who particularly encouraged me to surrender in my practice, so as I was lying on the floor figuring out how to finish my practice that day, the line up of their faces were all encouraging me to get up and get in to the next pose, which I did, which helped, and the crisis passed with my faith in the healing power of yoga again assured. But the question lingered, “Does my yoga practice follow the fixed series and the “do your practice and all is coming…” mantra, or do I what I ‘feel is right for me now’?”

The question is everywhere for me.  I remember how much easier it was to be an absolute vegetarian than to now try to eat consciously every day.  To me, the obvious answer to the quagmire is …..”the middle path.”  This complicates, because the middle path forces us to make new choices in each moment. To redefine who we think we are and what we can/should do in each moment.

Surrender of self will to authority, especially a guru, can be the most empowering choice a person can make in their life.  But eventually that power ends unless it brings one to the realization of the guru within.