Shake Your World by Practicing in the Dark

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding it hard to live serenely and grounded these days.  Be it the energy surrounding the “Occupy” movement, the politics and yoga discussion, my experiences teaching with fellow Yoga Modern writer, Carol Horton, in a women’s prison, or thinking deeply about the modern embodiment of yoga philosophy, I’m over-saturated and edgy from images and analysis. I sway between righteousness and weariness, and the last phrase I can utter with any certainty is I believe.

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In spite of the palpable love energy and necessity to engage in dialogue about our role in the complexities in the world, they continue to sting my increasingly sensitive heart,  and I admit, leave me a bit confused. If the aspiration in yoga is to calm the fluctuation of the mind’s chatter, how do we still rage against injustice? How do we remain calm yet not complacent? My practice lately has a hint of this same confusion to it. Tell me, I ask with my breath. Cradle me, I say with my body. Release me, I cry with tears that drip into the earth.

Certainly the concept of “taking it off the mat” is inspiring; yet, what is one to do when what’s on the mat is a broken, wobbly mess?

Mahatma Ghandi said“In a gentle way, you can shake the world”.

I started by shaking mine.

Yesterday, I practiced asana with my eyes closed almost the entire practice. I stretched, lunged, folded, opened, and jumped in the dark, in my dark. I wobbled and fell. I muttered and cursed. I groped and laughed. I took a spiritual journey and came face-to-face with a few of the kleshas (afflictions) identified in the Yoga Sutra as causes of suffering.

It turns out some of the best and brightest klesha-bashing can be done by breaking and shaking in the dark.

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Avidya, the primary cause of suffering, is defined as delusion – the inability to see things for what they are. In a literal sense, our eyes might give us sight, but what we recognize is more about what our momentary mind-state allows us to see rather than an objective state of what is. Discerning through touch and breath instead allows us to experience awareness in new and profound ways.  My tree swayed, yet with each press of my foot into the ground, it stood stronger. My Warrior fell over, but with breath she rose again. And again.

I was in a dark downward facing dog when I bumped into Asmita , egoism. Are my feet hips-width apart? Is my tummy showing? Are my legs straight? Relentless questions circled around. I began to repeat a mantra: Don’t peek. Don’t peek. Don’t peek. Breathe. Until I didn’t and I was, and the “my” thoughts dropped away. Not seeing the placement of my feet, the roundness of my tummy or the degree of engagement in my legs gave me space to look with internal focus, not through an external lens smeared with self-judgment.

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Too often, we cling to what we think we see and know – in our yoga practices and in life. Abhinivesha, our fear of change, essentially the death of life as we know it, only dilutes and smothers our experiences. If we’re always protecting stasis, after all, we seldom open to growth. If we aren’t willing to dance (or tumble) through the darkness on our mats, how can we find the courage to embrace our brokenness off of them? If we can’t sit with uncertainty and weariness, we are contracting instead of expanding.

My practice in the dark didn’t make me less wobbly or less broken; it didn’t make the world’s problems any less complex, but it helped me see.

What do you do in your practice to shake your world when you feel weary and broken?


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Lara Veon is a regular contributor to Yoga Modern. She also works as a body-centered psychotherapist and consults for Mindful Practices, a school wellness organization bringing yoga and wellness programs to schools and educators throughout the country. Her home is Chicago, IL where you can find her loving, laughing, and most likely standing on her head.

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