Action, Resistance, and The Divine
When I first started teaching yoga, I wanted to infuse heartfelt devotion for life into my teaching. For some people, that’s a turn off. For many people who live in their head all day thinking, worrying, planning, and working, they need to be reminded to just BE in their body. Since that applies to a lot of us, I’ve adopted a more body-centered approach – more mechanical, less spiritual.
I’ve been spending the past year learning more about anatomy and how the body works. It’s making me appreciate even more deeply the Divine at work. I want to titrate this awareness back into my teaching… find the right volume or equalizer setting between the physical practice of yoga and the spiritual practice of yoga. The time has come for me to find a way to integrate this, and somehow lose the duality.
Whether people believe in God or not, I hope we can all agree that something really big is at play here in the universe. Stars, planets, whole universes, our own Earth – all hurtling through space at amazing speed without any puppet strings. The sun shines from just the right distance so as not to burn us up and gives us just enough warmth to live and grow our flowers and veggies. The Earth tilts at a precise angle to give us seasons as flowers bloom, dispersing seeds using an astonishing array of strategies. Hummingbirds navigate thousands of miles back to my feeder every summer.
And then there’s us. We, too, have that same divine energy within us… the heart beats, a breath comes in, millions of cells go about their own business doing a myriad of tasks to keep us functioning as optimally as possible without our having to think about it to make it happen. We are a universe unto ourselves. The fact that we can stand in Warrior Pose is no less significant an expression of the Divine than a flower blooming or the warm glow of a sunset blanketing the landscape. The same energy, which I am calling “Divine”, makes all of these miracles possible. That’s huge! I cannot divorce the spiritual from the physical or the physical from the spiritual. The two coexist. In my experience so far on this planet, I’d say they are two faces of the same coin.
What is our doorway, our vehicle, for accessing this Divinity within us? Breath. Focusing on our breath is the vehicle to access the Divine. It orients us and shows us where to go. Gratitude / Acknowledgement is the fuel to transport us and take us deeper within. The door is not the house, and the car is not the destination. Like a child who mistakes our finger tip for the moon when we point up in the sky and say, “Moon!” focusing on our breath is the first step.
In yoga, we work with the principle of Action and Resistance. Action is moving into a pose. Resistance is the body’s response that lets us know when we’ve gone far enough into that pose. Go too far… pain. Don’t go far enough… meh. We want to find our edges and then back off the pose just a smidge. How big is a smidge? Find the place where the breath, our vehicle for exploring the Divine, can be free and unrestricted. Give it as much space as possible. Once you’ve found that place, acknowledge where you are and celebrate with deep gratitude the fullest expression of the pose. Then observe as your heart dances in the field of contentment, clarity, wisdom, peace, and joy. Like driving out and breathing the fresh country air, these qualities are the Perfume of the Divine.
Being remiss in acknowledging the Divine within us cuts us off from the reason so many of us do yoga – to feel a connection, to get in touch with our true and deepest self. As if we are shrink-wrapped, gratitude can give us breathing room to stretch that constricting wrap wide, creating more open space in which to experience the miracle of being alive in a human body. We have an opportunity in every pose to push that shrink-wrap away from us by our intention to ensure our breath is free and unrestricted in a pose.
Sometimes we re-shrink-wrap and limit our experience of the Divine by over-reaching our capacity in a pose. Perhaps we compare ourselves to others and want to look like they do in a pose leaving us with an experience of envy, depression, or anxiety. Or sometimes our ego gets the best of us, and we try to be macho by working through the pain. It’s not good for your body, and it’s not good for your soul. It’s cheating your self.
I have had a few teachers tell me, “You’re cheating here…” What is that? They’re telling me that I’m compensating somehow to get my body into what I think is a deeper expression of the pose, when in fact my ego has gotten the best of me because I wanted to look like the cover model of a yoga magazine. My breathing is compromised, and if I’m honest, I feel depleted afterwards. Where’s the joy in that? A healthy ego is a good tool to guide many of my efforts in the world; however, for my yoga practice, it’s not the best tool in the bag.
A simple guide to follow in yoga is to find the expression of a pose that is sufficiently deep and allows your breath to be free and unrestricted. To support this awareness, notice if the roof of the mouth feels relaxed and spacious or tight; if it feels tight, you’re shrink-wrapping your true expression of your Divine self: back off the pose. Finally, check that you feel grounded and connected to the Earth.
This isn’t new information. It clarifies for me why, as a yoga teacher, I ask my students to be mindful of their breath. It’s about finding the right setting between action and resistance so that one can experience their truest self. Put another way, it’s that place where action and resistance disappear and the Divine within is revealed.