Illustration: The Magazine of Yoga
The Art of Inquiry
Postures, mantras, meditation – that’s only half of yoga.
BY MAGAZINE ART EDITOR AJA BLANC
This past week, I lost my yoga practice.
Not the asana or mediation or time on the mat. That was all well and fine. Well isn’t that your yoga practice, some might ask? For many folks I know, there is the belief that as long as you do the practices, then you are living your yoga.
But what I lost was my ability to show up for life with equanimity – when my actions, words and thoughts are coming from a place of union with the Self.
That’s my yoga practice. The doing stuff – the postures, mantras, meditations, and all that are just the half of it.
Bringing the dailiness of life to the mat
A yoga teacher once told me “What’s the use of putting your foot behind your head if at the end of the day you are still a bastard?”
I don’t think I entered bastard territory this past week, but my teacher’s assertion rings true for me. My life is lived mostly off the mat. My time working with asana creates experiences and lessons that I then carrying into my everyday life.
I spend more time off the mat then on, so how I show up for the dailyness of life is pretty important.
And just as on-the-mat lessons can carry into everyday life, I have found the inverse to be true as well: when I bring the dailyness of life – the struggle, the joy, the challenge – into my practice, there is a depth of reality that truly affects the way I show up day in and day out.
Radically unstructured truth
One of the big gems I have gleaned from my years of yoga practice has been the the process of inquiry. That is because the style and tradition of yoga I practice is radically unstructured and very inclusive. Some may call that undisciplined, but I find it takes a lot of attention, willingness and commitment to work beyond the confines of external boundaries and through the constant process of internal inquiry.
I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised at the power of bringing inquiry into my practice.
As an art educator, I have always taught using inquiry based methods, helping students become as excited about forming their questions as they are about finding the answers. But bringing the practice of inquiry onto the mat and everyday life isn’t so easy.
You have to turn off the auto pilot and really be present – ask the tough questions and sit with the truth.
Not right, real
In yoga practice, this means focusing less on what is the right way and more on what is really going on.
When we stick with what is really going on and ask questions such as how does this feel? or what happens when I place my foot here or a block there? we make decisions out of a place of truth and the answers guide us further towards our truth. Inquiry on the mat can has saved me from injury, as in how does this feel? I feel sharp shooting pain when I place my foot there.
It also helps me to go deeper into my center through consistent tuning in to sensation.
The yes hangover
Bringing the practice of inquiry into my everyday life was a natural progression after all the positive results I felt on the mat. It gave me the courage to ask questions like “What are my priorities? What is not serving me right now? How can I get the support I need?” Those kind of questions, asked often, have helped me learn to respond to situations and life with equanimity.
Last week, I stopped asking those questions. I lost my practice of inquiry and fell back into old ways of being and indurated patterns. Life piled on so hard and like a pilot with a crashing plane, I flipped the autopilot switch and let go of the wheel.
Naturally, things got a little crazy.
Without the process of checking in with myself (“how is this working for me?”) I fell into a familiar pattern of letting everything in and saying no to nothing. I said yes to everything everyone asked of me and perhaps even worse, everything I asked of myself. I don’t know about you, but I ask myself to do a lot.
The yoga of no
Needless to say it was exhausting and a struggle. Its hard to show up at your best when you don’t ask yourself what that might be or what could be getting in the way. Luckily my autopilot didn’t need to crash before I woke up and asked (or yelled) what’s not working here? Not surprisingly, the answer was a lot.
In the end, I had to say no to a lot of things I wanted to say yes to. But it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. Once I asked, the answers came easy.
Peace to your practice,
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.