Photo: Rebecca, with permission from Heart | Brain | Belly
This week: Heart | Brain | Belly
Rebecca practices writing with the
same intelligence and clarity
she brings to the mat
Reading Rebecca’s Heart | Brain | Belly blog is like practicing yoga with Scout Finch, the young protagonist of To Kill a Mockingbird, only she’s grown up, teaching college, and raising a new baby.
Heart | Brain | Belly is earnest in the most disarming way, which is to say the writing is sincere, alive in the details, and thrown wide open.
There’s a purity to Rebecca’s love of life that makes us reach back further and further into her blog, hoping to find the source of her gentle, perceptive, not-easily-mislead persistence.
I have been meditating on how/when we learn that our time is our own. From birth, we are shuttled about by structures — parents’ time, school, nap, eating. And we hop onto these trains that are systems of activity that govern us — sports, classes, jobs.
It’s easy to fall into the perception that we are being made to take things on, or forced to squeeze our days around the obstacles of what we have to do. It’s easy to feel the guilt of not doing, whatever that means to each of us.
And it’s easy to lose track of how we have made choices that we can unchoose, how we can wiggle our uniqueness inside of what may seem like a tight container of have-tos. It’s easy to let these structures become our reality.
That’s what’s best about dropping by Heart | Brain | Belly – the invitation to gather up some “let go, come back, let go” determination that doesn’t turn our practice brittle or hard edged.
Rebecca’s essays are never vague, self-absorbed ruminations. It’s writing that’s explicitly aimed at meaningful connection to her own motivation, and to the mysterious give and take of showing up.
I have called it “my practice,” but it has never been my practice. Until just recently…
For many years, I have been focused on doing it right. I don’t know whether I knew that I had a right to bring myself to it. I don’t know if I ever even considered it. I have always followed my teacher…just my teacher. And I have tried to quiet my mind.
But I dig on this idea of making the practice my own. This nudge in the direction of developing an understanding of who we are in the practice, what brings us to it, what we bring to it…it couldn’t have come at a better time.
She starts each post rooted firmly in what’s just happened. Whether it be flummoxed handstands, injuries, the Olympics or baby’s first steps, it’s impossible to read Rebecca’s writing about her practice without being drawn in.
Writing often begins as a way of making a record, of keeping track. Journal writing is seen as ephemera by some, passing, like sunlight on a river flowing under a bridge.
Yet, writing is a practice, too. When we practice making a record we’re in fact practicing noticing. By and by we start to become pretty good phenomenologists, by which I mean, we can’t help noticing it’s really ourselves we’re watching, not the stuff going by.
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In Super Mario Brothers, you can drop your guy down below the surface of the earth, and as you move him right, the path appears to him. But he has to move to see the path; it is not laid out before him as it is above ground.
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And so the Olympics also have me thinking about the daring and the accomplishment of practice. How sport and practice are the same and not the same. So incredibly similar, so critically different. I have a ‘coach’ — but he is not my coach; he is my teacher. The goal in sport is obvious. The goal in practice is less tangible; and ours is not to focus on it, but rather to be in the moment and then let the moment go.
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The other day in practice, I was doing my drop backs. Traditionally, this is how a drop would go for me:
Stand up from last lying-down Urdhva Danurasana. Move blanket out of the way. Fix hair, fix top, fix shorts, plant feet. Reposition feet, think about the backbend (What, specifically? Not sure.) Fix hair again. Fix top again. Raise arms, deep breath. Bend back slowly. Hands to the ground. Reposition feet. Stand up.
Repeat entire process 3-5 times.
We write to interrogate the record, to ask about its accuracy and to defy its authority. As we become intimate with the corners and cul-de-sacs of what matters to us most, writing is a way of thinking.
Above all, Heart | Brain | Belly thinks about practice.
My teacher told me that this injury is trying to teach me something. I don’t know the whole message, but I do know that part of it is that I have a lot to learn about the undertow of the ego and the intricate layering of the practice. I know that it’s possible that I may be thankful for this injury. The practice will be here for you, she assured me. Let go.
The most powerful lesson that I have learned this week is that letting go does not mean letting go of the practice; it means moving deeper into it by making space in it. Modifying does not mean limiting; it means opening, caring for the body while it heals, practicing around it like a cocoon around a delicate form of life.
What I have seen this week is that the practice is not dark, not subterranean, but actually surprisingly well-lit if we are willing to see and feel our way in.
Rebecca notices she’s thinking, and then that she’s over-thinking. She notices the tension between self awareness and guilt, the contradictions of practicing, the moments that wink at her with spontaneous clarity.
This morning, during my practice, I thought about the softness that is sacrificed when my brain is chattering away about rightness, lining up every pose like a checklist. My arms pull, my shoulders tighten, my back resists. The brain must fall into the heart… Softness is waiting.
The bandhas help to give us the energy to move forward with ease, I think. But even bandhas can be over-thought (which is how we mistake them). They can be over-contracted, over-tightened. The breath, too, can be over-inhaled or over-exhaled. It’s the trying too hard that puts a kind of armor over the body and inhibits a) the flow of energy, b) the opening of the joints, c) the extension of the muscles, and d) the quieting of the mind.
One of the greatest privileges is to be able to think with someone as they share writing on any subject. Rebecca thinks with sincerity that makes us go back to our mats to think new things.
Here’s your hook up to Heart | Brain | Belly. Our favorite post from earlier this year: The Waves of Practice
The Magazine of Yoga is full of admiration for the authenticity of Heart | Brain | Belly. We’re delighted to award Rebecca our Real Life is Real Yoga™ Pure Prana quality rating. We highly recommend you add this down-to-earth, practice-committed-to-the-journey of life blog to your reading list.
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