I learned to meditate in a loft in Chelsea, with the young fencers of New York stampeding overhead.
“The footsteps are like our thoughts; they come and go,” my Teacher would say. “Bring your attention back to the breath.”
The single most salient feature of my original Yoga Teacher Training was not the pressure to advance my physical practice, although that was there. Or the challenge of developing the neural circuitry to “direct traffic” on the mat. “Take your right foot forward. No. Sorry… the other right foot.” That was there too.
The most salient feature of my original Teacher Training was that my Teacher plunged us in to meditation every chance she got, and for that I am eternally grateful.
It was in savasana, after a deep physical practice—my body, completely relaxed, sounds arising and subsiding in the spaciousness of a quiet mind—that I first tasted meditative states. Later, when we sat to meditate, my mind slightly anesthetized from the chanting and the incense, I got the hang of training my awareness on the breath and the mantra.
In that Chelsea loft, I found blessed quietude—and space—between breaths and between the thoughts that were arising and subsiding.
We actively shift our attention from thoughts to the breath and to the diverse sensations in our bodies. As Saki Santorelli, Teacher of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, notes: “Sensation is the language of the body.” And it’s a wordless language.
As we rest in the breath or in sensation, our attention naturally turns inside. In that way, the physical practice of yoga becomes a portal into meditation.
Ideally, yoga is practiced with a meditative awareness. It’s not like working out at the gym where we’re more likely to remain unconscious of our thoughts or of our “state” as we strive to build muscle or develop flexibility.
In Yoga we come into alignment physically. We strengthen and stretch. We become more flexible and we cultivate balance. However, we do all of this with increased awareness of the breath and of awareness. That is in fact what distinguishes Yogis from non-Yogis. Yogis are aware of awareness.
If you’re new to the physical practice of yoga, notice when this quietude arises—perhaps when you’re resting in a child pose between active poses, or in savasana, corpse pose, at the end of class, or while sitting to meditate.
Know that these openings into quietude or spaciousness are a major gift of the physical practice and that it’s good to linger in them.
These are often the first samskaras, subtle impressions, of meditation in our body-minds and our awareness. Over time, these repeated impressions condition our awareness, making it effortless, easeful, and natural to turn our attention inside and meditate.
Feel free to contact me if you want to explore the physical practice of yoga in a way that helps you cultivate a body-mind that is more inclined to relax into meditative states.