In spirit: The right moment to practice yoga?

Another perspective

We often wait for the “right moment” to practise yoga. We come back from a yoga workshop, we promise ourselves that we will practise every day from now on. But everyday life catches up quickly and the practice becomes the last thing we have time to do. I look at my yoga mat from the corner of my eye, I scan the practice area. I know I should sit down, but I will not have enough time to do a complete session anyway as I have a friend coming over in 15 min, so what’s the point … There is also a laundry to start, a phone call to give, and I just ate and one knows it is not ideal to practise with a heavy stomach… I should do my asanas in the morning, but when the alarm clock rings I prefer to sleep until the last moment. As for the evening, drained by my day, I decide that I will do my session tomorrow morning! There is always something that prevents me from doing yoga. And yet, during the seminar, or even after my 2-hour class, the feeling of coming home is so delicious that I always say to myself, “but why did I forget to sit down for so long? Why am I not practising more regularly?”

Let’s take things from another angle. In fact, yoga has already begun. I observe and listen to the excuses, but without judgment or guilt. Yoga, before any external posture, is my internal positioning, it is this space of presence to what is, in which I allow to question myself. I listen to the fact that I postpone things and wait for “when it will be the right time” or “when I will be ready.” By the way, it’s probably a catchphrase I know well, not just with yoga. It’s a bit like a nice dress that we keep in the closet for the good occasion: one saves it, thinking that there will always be a better opportunity and finally, realizes that the right moment has passed without my noticing.

 The mechanisms behind all this

I learned by force of circumstances that if I expected every article to be perfect, I would not write. That if I waited to feel aligned in my life, I would not give one yoga seminar. That if I waited to be an established artist, I would not give one photography class. Each class, teaching moment, each page published, shows me where I am at, what I still have to learn, and allows me to question myself, to remain humble in front of my limits and imperfections, and from there, eventually grow up. In fact, one really has to realize that the judgment that is put on oneself by categorizing what is good, not good enough, mediocre, acceptable, ready, right, wrong, are totally arbitrary judgments. The “good” moment does not exist. It is only in this state of vulnerability that one can deeply feel that the wealth is in this journey happening through the experience and the practice.

The fear of not being perfect and not doing well enough is a human illness that every one of us knows, without exception. Yoga begins the instant what is meant to be is not perceived any more as an error, but rather as fertile soil. My position during the asana is this state of observation and listening that I give myself to, without comment, with honesty and simplicity, without prejudice. It is my inner position that becomes the foundation of my daily life as much as it is that of my yoga posture, or of my sitting one during meditation. 

Sometimes, I do yoga with the asanas, to stimulate this space of awareness, come back to it, and let myself be in this space of surrendering (and also because it feels good to the body, it stirs the vehicle…). But it is also in everyday life that it must take place, in this crazy and disorganized chaos that is life, where everything is jostled, where nothing happens as planned. The only “good” moment is the one that imposes itself spontaneously, not the one of which I have decided.

One does not “do” yoga, not any more than one does meditate.

I sit down to do nothing, zero activity. Yoga, meditation, are not actions created outside of oneself when I stimulate them voluntarily. They are internal states that inhabit my body and my being permanently, even when the unawareness or the noise of the external life covers this internal experience. Yoga or meditation is, in other words, what happens when one comes back to what is already there. It’s like listening to a river that runs: listening is not an action that creates the river, the river exists despite myself and my availability to it. It is by stopping my activity that I can give myself to the sound of the water and let myself be taken by the flow. The fact that I am in the tumult or in the presence has no impact on this living stream in which my internal space belongs. Listening does not have to be active, it comes spontaneously when one lets the body and the mind fall asleep. Yoga makes me, meditation takes me.

Concretely, to let myself be absorbed by this inner space is to sit down without demand or expectations. For that, I simply come back to the sensation. If I feel tired, then I start from there: How do I feel the sleeping sensation in the body? Is it heavy? What kind of heaviness? Can I feel an emotion rise like annoyance, anger or sadness? Let it be, there is nothing to block, only to welcome what presents itself. 

If I feel agitated? Perfect, I sit down to listen to this agitation. I am attentive to the slightest movements of the body. For example, perhaps I take note that I cannot help but swing a knee, fiddle my fingers. I let it be, there is no intervention necessary to stop or change anything. How do you do to stop being agitated? I do not intervene, I let the sensation of this agitation take its natural course. Let the agitation take its full freedom without censorship. It is a sensation that moves through the body as if one has the flu or were under a delirious drug. Let it happen without resistance. Which area of ​​the body is stimulated in the moment of agitation? Be very precise … the face … feels the agitation that is located in the frontal part of the head, it creates a tension on the forehead, in the eyebrows, the corner of the eyes, the chin, the lips. Do not rectify anything, let the echo spread in the body and become totally intimate with these sensations. 

Be careful not to create a sensation or knowledge as it is not a way of controlling or gaining anything. It is an exploration like a dancer who improvises in the moment as the spectator participates actively as well by his observation. Everyone plays their part. It’s time to really give yourself to what surfaces without intervening. Yoga begins here.

The practice, exploring an asana

If you have 5 min, choose a posture to explore. If you have 10 min, do an asana very slowly, or two more quickly. If you are agitated, practice at least twenty minutes and increase a little the pace of the passage and the posturing of the asanas. If the sensitivity takes you, then stay in this space where the slowness of the world is unfolding in your posture, and let the rhythm impose itself naturally, organically, in this space that takes you where time disappears.

Open one leg forward. Feel the leg making its journey caressing to the ground. Do not take the leg, the foot or the ground for granted. Be the ground, become the foot, live the leg. Inhabit what surrounds you. Extend the other leg while staying in the same sensitivity. Feel the chest, torso, hips, and let the entire frontal part of the body meets the legs without having to go down at all costs or touch your legs. It’s not a flexibility contest, do not pull with your hands. These hands, instead of using them to pull or push, offer them the chance to explore the space in a perfectly neutral way. Release the palms towards the floor placed on each side of the legs. Let the fingers taste the temperature and the texture of the ground. Neither the hands nor the shoulders need to pull the back or any other part of the body. Let these shoulders drop towards the hips, and the tensions flow in the arms like water that runs into the ground through your hands. Question this utilitarian scheme of always willing to go further and having a goal. Allow the body to find back its natural breathing when there is no expectations and only presence. 

The torso explores its way back to the upright position. A line emanates from the pelvic area to the throat. Then let go of the hips as if they were flowing backward and carried the spine with them, initiating a crescent moon from the coxis to the top of the skull. Stay in this vaulting posture, without pushing, without pulling, give yourself to this natural position of rest. Let the legs open to the right and the left side. Feel how the legs are detached from the pelvis, the space is created in the articulation of the hips. 

From there, imagine a string coming out of the navel and pulling you forward. The navel wants to caress the ground, while the chest covers the space towards the wall in front of you. Do not go down with the back, it’s the frontal part of the torso that explores the space between the legs. Here too, the movement is not dead and empty. The intention is passive, but the presence is active. Engage consciously in every part of your body. You become the area that caresses the torso and the leg, you become the leg caressed by the energy of the ground and the area. Be fully present, not only inside you, but also around. Because the presence does not have a body, has no limit, do not stop at the skin. Let the image dissolve and live the space through the sensation.

You come back up from the frontal part of the body, without using the back. The legs return to their initial posture, with the sensation. Now it’s the time to drop everything and give yourself to the seated position in which resonates the echo the movement left in the body (listen to the hips, the back of the legs, the chest…). Here you go, you are practising. Agitation, thoughts or tensions that emerge are the same thing: it is to be listened to, it is the body, a sensation that will guide you. 

If sometimes you feel the practice a little forced or mechanical, it does not matter, sit down anyway and do one or two postures. Silence carries you, even when you do not feel it, give yourself to that evidence that you are exactly where you need to be. The best time to sit down is every second, in mediation, with a posture or with 10. There can be no mistake or bad practice. Look, it has already started…

Photos by Stephane Desmeules during a trip in 2016 where they travelled together to India with Mariette Raina. The photos of asanas in India featured in this article are part of a group of photographs of Stéphane and Mariette currently exhibited at the center Ivy Espace Yoga – Arts & Communauté

Article by Mariette Raina
First trained as an anthropologist (graduated from the University of Montreal in 2014), it is in parallel of her 6 years at University that Mariette studies kashmirian yoga and evolved in the artistic circles where she questions the act of perception, the relation to the image, as well as the body as a vehicle of expression, through photography, writing and performance. Since 2015 she has been teaching photography classes at the Activités Culturelles of the University of Montreal. She has been working at Center Never Apart in Montreal since 2016 as a writer of monthly articles and collaborated on various projects such as an exhibition and Dax Dasilva’s Age of Union book. Her various activities are related by the same exploration: the understanding of human beings and the reality.

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