By Jiya Julia Randall
Taking alignment off the mat
I am here, standing still. I could be anywhere – waiting for a bus or at the bank, looking at art, watching the waves over the sea. But today, here, now, I am at the top of my mat. My feet press into the ground and my neck grows, as if I am looking at something far away. Standing here in Mountain pose, it takes a moment to calm myself enough to stand still in such simplicity. I take the opportunity to adjust my clothing, shift in the space. After a breath or two I realize: simply standing still is enough.
We all come to the mat – just as we all come to life – with natural asymmetries. Our bodies are often slightly longer on one side than the other. Our minds are conditioned to run down some grooves of thought more often than others. Yoga is a set of practices that allows us to feel interconnection between our parts – a kind of union that helps to rebalance us, allowing us to feel completely whole within ourselves. In doing so, we open ourselves to finding alignment, balance and wholeness in other parts of our being and our experience.
As we unfold into the practice of yoga and the practice that is our life, we are invited to come to an inner acceptance of what is - looking at things directly without the distraction of the to-do lists, the worries, the mental replaying and rehearsing that so often forms our backdrop to life. Through taking the time to be with ourselves in this way on the mat, we continuously reflect this awareness from within back into our lives. Through allowing ourselves to just “be” in our pose or in our breath, we allow ourselves to sit with deeper moments in our lives.
When we come to our mat and take a posture, we are placing our body in a sacred expression, a configuration that allows our ‘life energy’ – in the form of blood, electrical impulses, and more subtle aspects – to flow in a certain way. In the process of finding our expression of the posture, we may contract or constrict certain parts of our body - through tightening muscles and constraining blood flow, through demanding focus, and at the same time challenging us to maintain equanimity even while our body is compromised. When we release the pose, we let go. We release our muscles and our intent. Our ‘life energy’ floods back to the constricted region and reenergizes from the inside out.
Each of us explores a pose in our own unique way that varies from day to day. These micro-adjustments are our way of finding our own, subjective, sacred expression of the posture. Each person may experience the essence of Mountain slightly differently, just as each person stands in life in a unique way. Perhaps we sense the strength, the power, the long, solid lifetime of the mountain. Perhaps we feel the stillness - the immense pause the mountain retains over aeons – and perhaps echoes of that stillness help us to stay calm in the next life-storm.
Whatever our experience may be, we learn to find equilibrium in any moment by finding balance and connection with what is. Perhaps, in simply standing in a conscious way, we are able to find the resolve to keep trying in a difficult situation. Perhaps, in feeling the different pulls within our body, we are able to sense in which ways our life is constricting us at the moment, and which way it is strengthening us. We may be able to sense where we are being stubborn, and holding on too long. We may find the strength to ‘transcend’ this moment altogether. Rather than our mind creating a picture of how mountain pose should look, or how mountain pose should feel, we have the opportunity to embody the essence of the Mountain in our own way.
Yoga is a word coming from the Sanskrit Yuj, meaning ‘to yoke’. At its essence is this: Union. For many, yoga means connecting: to our bodies, to our minds, to something deeper. It asks us again and again to find balance and lightness within parts of us that are constricted or constrained in some way. Something that can be done on the mat, through focused intent on the breath, can be echoed in our day-to-day lives through intentionally ‘connecting’ – purposefully paying attention – to our daily experience. Rather than our mind creating a picture of how life should look, or how we should feel in a certain moment, we find space within ourselves to embrace all that there is.
As well as encouraging us to find physical alignment through our asana (posture), and mental alignment through our dharana (concentration) Yoga, or Unity, is the process of learning to involve all of ourselves in the experience, so that all of our being is activated in our experience. In the process of finding our pose on the mat, we have the opportunity to create a deep expression of our internal world. Each pose is like a mandala, a sacred shape, our being reaching out in all directions from our center in a slow, intentional dance.
When we enter so deeply into the body in our practice that we clear our mind and are able to be completely present with the pose, we begin to “see” asymmetries internally. What we may initially experience as a general area of tightness or pain in the body begins to form itself into specific pulls that, over time, can be distinguished as particular muscles. These pulls may be related to specific thought patterns, memories or life events that are asking to be more deeply seen.
Seeing in this fuller way brings a deep body-mind-energy connection that allows our alignment work to be felt on all levels. More awareness means more of our ‘life energy’ becomes available for use. The ability we have as individuals to make things happen for ourselves is directly related to our ability to channel the energy that we need. When we merge all parts of ourselves in this way, we open ourselves to bigger and more nourishing paths. From finding inner connection, we may experience a sense of harmony that pervades. Over time, we uncover a sense of inner balance and grace, allowing us to release in order to more fully inhabit our experience.
Yoga is a process of growing the tendrils of our awareness out through our experience in the moment. As we grow this consciousness within ourselves, we let it keep growing out into our lives. The process asks us questions: What does it mean to sit with what we have? What does it mean to find acceptance in situations that may be uncomfortable? How can we move intentionally into spaces in a way that allows us - metaphorically and literally – to breathe more easily?
I am here, now, standing still. I pause. Here is equilibrium. I spread my feet and hands. I reach in a new way, extending just a little bit more. I breathe more deeply, opening out in a place that particularly feels good today. I ground my feet down to feel just a bit more of the earth.
As I delve into the space of a pose, my mind becomes still. All of a sudden, my awareness is brought to a center point and the question arises: “What does it mean to stand still like a mountain in this moment?“