Sunday, December 09, 2007

Give me a week (or so); I'll catch on...

A week after returning from Kripalu, a yoga center in the Berkshires of western Massachusetts, I’m still mulling over the experience. But this evening I learned something that was taught to me at Kripalu.

Though I went there for a workshop led by Stephen Cope, the way the place works is that lots of yoga classes at various levels are available to anyone staying there. The Kripalu style of yoga is both slower and more introspective than the practice I’m accustomed to, but the teachers there are completely open to allowing visitors to practice the various postures in the ways that we’re accustomed to doing them. So I found a vigorous flow class and practiced a hybrid of the Kripalu pacing and the posture details I’m used to. One morning, I attended a class led by a teacher named Ranjit (I think). Toward the end of the practice, he called us into Triangle, and I moved into the version I’m accustomed to. I was tiring, and trembling slightly. He moved into position behind me and made a couple of gentle adjustments to my posture, helping with the twist, softening the shoulder of the vertical arm. At the end of practice, he suggested that I might find my yoga improve if I could manage to reduce my effort and strain by about 20 percent. Internally, I shook my head.

This evening, back in Jennifer’s Sunday evening level-2 power yoga class at CorePower Yoga here in Denver, she took us through a challenging and fun sequence of poses. She started the practice, as she usually does, with a short reading. This one talked about ways that we can close off our hearts from the experience of life. And about half-way through the evening’s practice, suddenly, Ranjit’s lesson came home to me. It took a week to sink in, but I realized that there are lots of different ways to close off a heart. My usual pattern for that is to withdraw from a situation or an experience, to close in. But I realized this evening that it’s also entirely possible to go the other way, using exertion and effort to keep the heart silent.

This realization has been mirrored in my meditation practice, as well. Recently, I’ve discovered that there can be too much of a good thing – that with some training and specific technique, mind-concentration practices can be performed to a degree I hadn’t really found previously. The mind tends to still in such concentration practice, and if I understood some of Stephen Cope’s discussions in last week’s workshop, the practice of concentration, itself, tends to reduce the strength of grasping and aversion in other parts of life. But in practicing such tight concentration, it’s possible to keep the mind’s focus so narrow that there is space for nothing else. Just as that kind of effort prevents monkey-mind jabbering, it also seems to prevent the open, aware, neutral witnessing experience from arising, as well.

So half-way through Jennifer’s class this evening, I may have learned some of what Ranjit tried to teach me last week.