The Study of Stillness

Original Piece by Avani | May 2013

How do you connect within the depths of serenity and stillness?

It’s so easy to lose the point of it all when I’m elbow deep in a puddle of sweat, when I’m flowing freely to the sound of some world drum beat, just me, my mat, my practice, my movement.  And then all of a sudden it hits me, “why exactly am I doing this again?”  I’m quite sure the point is not to have sore abs tomorrow or to sweat myself into a state of dizziness.  Meanwhile I’m sitting in a pretzel shape, limbs all intertwined and my mind is stuck on that annoying client I faced earlier in the day, the friend that unloads her drama onto me, the dog that ate my shoes.  Now, I admit I may not fully comprehend yet exactly what “it” is, but I’m relatively sure that this experience is not why I came to the mat the first time around.  This cluttered, active mind is not “it”.  Somewhere along my journey into sun salutations I’ve lost sight of my ultimate goal; of Yoga’s ultimate goal.

Immersed deep in the study of The Art of Flow and within the grand potency of the Pavones Yoga Center, our teacher, Indira, posed a question:  “What does Flow mean to you?”  I wrote previously about our collective agreement that flow tends to bring a sense of “all-connectedness” when you find yourself within it.  I explored the meaning of surrender, a word that tends to conjure up an image of movement, of a sinking, a floating, a seeping down into what Is. Letting go.  Go.  That word in itself invokes action.  But it was the answer from one particular classmate that struck me hard, an answer which I’ve carried with me all of this time.  Chris raised his hand and said “for me right now, flow is stillness”.  Well, this is me:  Mind. Officially. Blown.

Stillness and Flow.  Are they one in the same?  Related?  Brothers from the same family unit?  Could it BE?  I have continued to explore stillness in my personal practices on and off the mat.  My flow has slowed.  My awareness has deepened.  My priorities have shifted.  It’s a phrase I use in my teachings all the time, but now I’ve begun to see how much I needed to integrate it into my off-the-mat life, too:  Yoga prepares us to be still.  Paul Grilley says that this sense of heaviness and inhibition of movement which accompanies a Yin Yoga practice is “a desirable state and…a perfect prelude to meditation…Many people are so nervous they literally cannot sit still.”  Teachers, have you ever observed the difficulty students experience while remaining in savasana?  Grilley suggest that an “immobilizing inner calm” is really the ultimate goal.  Stillness.  Tranquility.  Oh.  Right.  Sure glad I’ve put in about 3,000 chaturangas over the years…

On that note, let’s get back to the poses.  Yes, the twisty, turny, upside down shapes we find ourselves in.  Asana.  I hate to break it to you (and to myself), but postures are only one (tiny) part of the yogic path.  1/8 of the yogic path to be exact;  1/8 of the path that I happen to adore.  Many find themselves exploring already the yamas (behaviors) and niyamas (observances).  Every student has at least scratched the surface of pranayama (breath practice) with their ocean breath.  Each limb helps prepare us perfectly for the next.  Step-by-step we develop until further up the tree trunk we find the final four limbs:  Pratyahara (withdrawal/detachment), Dharana (concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (bliss).  These are the most challenging limbs, reserved for the bravest and the most disciplined:  those that are quiet and still in body and mind.  None of these limbs require me to wrap my leg around my neck.  In fact, in complete contradiction, as I creep towards these higher limbs I am asked to sit my bum down and stay.  Sit.  Stay.  Breathe.  Be Present.

Oh brother, could this get any harder?

And all of this time I’ve been worried about my backbends, when I should’ve been perfecting my savasana

Finding this state of in-action is the ever present challenge that I face within myself. I always have and always will love a good sweaty vinyasa but, over the previous few years my mind has shifted me towards a solid Yin Yoga practice.  I’m ready for some stillness in my life.  I’ve prepared for a long time.  I’ve been thinking lately that a lack of activity (both physical and mental) creates the same sense of all–connectedness which we seek through yoga practice, that sensation we describe when we find ourselves in the “flow”.  I feel it, I observe it, I embody it.  And I know my arrival at the point of stillness will be fleeting.  That’s why I keep coming back to the mat.  Until I can stop shifting thoughts toward the grumpy client, the needy friend, the spoiled dog, I will keep coming back to my asana and use it as a guide into the world of quietude.  Two steps forward, one step back.  Mine is not a leap into stillness, it’s a tip-toe.  And I’m okay with savoring each step along the way.