Sunday, March 12, 2006

Brief summary of jivamukti practice during Seventeenth Class

Jivamukti session:

After the discussion of the chakras (described below in the summary of the class), Alanna led us through a jivamukti yoga practice. She started us in Child’s pose, and, while we were face down, placed a bandanna on each person’s mat, instructing us to blindfold ourselves. The rest of the practice was conducted without sight.

Alanna began by reminding us of the connectedness of all things: An instant after the Big Bang, all matter and all energy were packed together tightly in a single point – so tightly that the separation between bits of matter and energy that we’re accustomed to in our existence did not exist – each particle was connected. In recent years, we’ve discovered that two particles, once in direct contact, remain “entangled” even after they separate. Every particle of your being originated in the Big Bang and each particle remains entangled – connected – to the other elements of creation. Though you may not perceive it, each action that affects you affects also all others. Each action that affects others affects you. We can train our minds to listen – we can train our bodies to listen. As we do that, we’ll perceive a great deal more of the interconnectedness of all things than we may perceive at present. Start with the blindfold. Allow it to turn on your other sensibilities. And as you proceed through this practice, know that your extending of feelings of compassion and kindness toward someone will affect that person.

The class then started in Child’s Pose followed by Downward Dog. Both are resting postures, and we held both of them for several minutes. Alanna talked to us as we held the position, and she also used the time to touch each student – anointing the lower back with a mildly-scented cream or lotion. In doing so, she reinforced our attention to sensations, especially in the absence of sight. She also informed us, physically, that we could expect other touch and posture adjustments throughout the practice. In doing so, she reinforced the structure of relationship between a teacher who sees and each student who relies on the teacher’s vision.

As the practice progressed, Alanna continued throughout the class, adjusting poses, modifying stances, sometimes with the touch of a finger, sometimes meshing her body with the student’s to advance the posture. She led us through a series of poses, each stage of the series emphasized a particular chakra, starting at the root chakra, ascending through the belly, solar plexus, heart, throat, brow, and culminating at the crown.

We concluded each set of poses focused on a chakra concluded with a mantra related to the chakra. In working the heart chakra, Alanna instructed us that we would perform three sets of Wheel Pose. During the first, she asked us to hold in our awareness someone whom we love, letting those feelings hold us longer in the pose. During the second, she asked us to hold in our awareness someone about whom we feel indifference, extending compassion to that person, allowing those feelings to hold us in the pose. During the third, she asked us to hold in our awareness someone whom we dislike. She then called us to hold the pose for what felt like a very long time, using our extension of compassion in such a situation to create the energy we needed to hold the pose.

As she called the various postures and breaths, Alanna also taught us about the aspects of yoga to which each chakra is most related – philosophy, ethics, morality, joy, interrelationships. The combination of intellectual and spiritual training, physical engagement, mantric expression, devotion to God, and community formation was unique in my experience of yoga, though it had a familiar sensation to it.

At the end of the practice, Alanna asked us, as we remained blindfolded, to engage in a very active version of what I learned as a solitary metta (or lovingkindness – see below “Responses to Fifteenth Class”) meditation several years ago. But this time, while our bodies were engaged and tired from the practice, blindfolds still over our eyes, Alanna instructed us to find a neighbor without speaking. For those of us whose neighbors found others, Alanna led others to us. With each student in the class paired up with another, she instructed us to kneel facing the other person, and to extend compassion and love to that person. She instructed us to remove our blindfolds, keeping our eyes closed. Then she instructed us to place one hand on our own heart while holding the other’s shoulder with the left hand. She instructed us to open our eyes and look into the eyes of the other, extending the same compassion and love without judgment, statement, or limitation. After several minutes, she instructed us to return to our mats, and we ended the class with a chant.