~ awake in this moment, at home in the world ~

Yoga, Simplified

May 15, 2013
Next to my bedside sit three books of poetry, four meditation books, two novels, two cookbooks, a yoga philosophy book and a biography of Dipa Ma that I've been hoping to read for months. On my iPhone are dozens of dharma talks, interviews and guided meditations. And beside my yoga mat two thick yoga manuals await, along with a book about yoga for kids and a beautiful book of quotations by Buddhist meditation teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

I have a feeling that when I am able to finally turn to these gems, I won't have to look far to find a few passages praising simplicity and spaciousness. I’m sure I’ll find reminders to relinquish greed and to stop overcrowding our lives. And probably, too, I’ll find messages that remind us that everything we need already resides within us, waiting to be discovered.

We live in an era of information, and I imagine I'm not the only one tempted by the many incredible resources that rest just beyond our fingertips. Lately, though, I've realized that I will never be able to keep up with the flow of information the world now spouts forth. I have decided to give up trying to keep up with it all. We can dip in and dip out, and surely find some beautiful wisdom in the process. But we don't have to carry the whole load. What a relief!

I've carried this resolve into my yoga practice as well. As I've settled onto my yoga mat these last few weeks, I've pushed aside books and notes and even my cavalcade of props. I’ve invited my practice to grow beautifully simple and sweet. And in the process, I've made a little more room for my own inner wisdom to bloom.

Each day, I sit, I breathe. I watch, I wait. I look within. I wait for inspiration to bubble up. (It always does, eventually.) And then I move. I slip through a few favorite postures: downward facing dog, child's pose, a few luxurious twists. I move slowly and with presence. I breathe. Sometimes I repeat movements several times in a gentle, wavelike rhythm. And then in between postures, I simplify again, sitting quietly and observing what has changed.

I climb into each stretch with quiet enthusiasm, paying close attention to the shifting sensations in muscles, joints and bones. I watch my breath respond to the movement by smoothing itself out, by growing fuller and deeper and more life affirming.

Oh, how sweet this simple practice tastes in my body! I feel returned to the basics and close to yoga's essential gifts. I feel both full and spacious. I feel both grounded and uplifted. I even taste that beautiful innocence we all felt when we first stepped onto a yoga mat, when every stretch and pull was wondrous and inspiring.

And then, when I finally settle into savasana, I feel deeply nourished and restored. I feel more content than I would have had I pulled out someone else's yoga book or tried to cram my body into someone else's asana flow. I feel I've crafted a yoga practice that has been perfect for me. And at the same time, I feel like I have clicked into some timeless and universal state of grace. I feel deliciously, utterly rinsed clean.

Are you tempted to join me in yoga, simplified? Admittedly, it takes a little courage to climb out of the shadow of others and to shape your own yoga destiny. But it's well worth the journey.
First, put away your yoga books. Then, roll out your mat. Sit quietly for a few moments, and let Thoreau's reminder to "simplify, simplify" be your mantra.

Notice what sensations are rippling through you. Are you energetic? Sleepy? Scattered? Quiet? Angry, sad, happy? Just wait for answers to bubble up within, perhaps in the form of words, but maybe even as images or sounds or colors.

Breathe and soften. Relax. And then when you know what you're feeling, ask yourself what you need to do to slip toward a deeper state of balance. Do you need to build energy? Release it? Smooth it out? Do you need to cultivate a little strength and stamina, or would gentleness and rest bring you back home to your true self?

And then let go of even your answers, and invite simplicity to slip into your bones. Trust yourself and be patient. When a wave of insight ripples through (be patient, it will eventually), move with it. Maybe your body yearns to twist, and if so, slip into a very simple, easy spiral. Or maybe you dive toward a forward bend. Be curious, and watch where this movement carries you.

Don't over-complicate your practice with too many instructions or rules about how you should do a particular pose. Climb into your own inner teacher and trust the wisdom she offers. You may even find yourself slipping into homegrown yoga postures you've never seen in a book or video. This is good!

And then stand or sit quietly again. Breathe and observe how your movements have changed you. Remember your watchword: simplify. Perhaps you have an image that evokes feelings of simplicity and ease - a lovely vase of flowers, a beautiful blue sky, or a contented monk slipping through a field. If so, let the image waft through you.

And then, perhaps you'll be called to move again. Stand up in mountain pose, or settle into downward facing dog or another favorite pose, and move from there. Drift into the poses several times, if you're moved to. Breathe, watch and wait. Be patient and move slowly. Otherwise you may just trample right over your own insight and wisdom.

Don't be discouraged by doubt or uncertainty. Relish that moment when your honest answer to a question is, "I have no idea." Not-knowing is a beautiful and innocent place to be, and it means you are wide open to possibility and growth.

Continue to move and breathe and stretch and sit - unencumbered and attentive - for as long as you like. But remember, less is often more, so practice until you're pleasantly full but not overstuffed.
On a good day, you'll eventually settle into a place of utter spaciousness and ease, where your sense of self grows so vast that you become the whole world. “You” will fall away, and all that will remain is a simple creature breathing and stretching and utterly at home in the world, merging into the vast and beautiful play of life.

And when you feel delightfully simple - clean and clear and fresh, and ready to rest - settle onto your back in savasana for a deep dive into presence and ease. Stay simple. Just lie down comfortably onto the floor. Let go of technique, of how you've been taught to relax.

Rest. Breathe. Empty. And float in the sea of sweet simplicity, filled with deep quiet, spacious and peace.