Art Direction: The Magazine of Yoga
The Practice of Paradox
Working with everything you’ve got
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
When it comes to feeling not-crazy in our day-to-day lives, one of the most useful aspects of yoga is its insistence on paradox as a central practice.
I really mean just everyday paradox, the kind we run into all the time, where there doesn’t seem to be a right answer but we have to do something.
All day long we encounter this kind of demand – to be strict and gentle with our children for example, or authentic and professional at work. Be your true self we’re told, but don’t be inappropriate. Express your feelings, and also respect boundaries.
Without practice and awareness it’s easy to get stuck doing too much of one thing, then “balancing” it by doing more of another. We end up zig-zagging around until we find ourselves called-out, painted into the corners when we’re sincerely trying hard to do the right thing.
Giving up the safety of indifference
Two cardinal qualities of yoga are often translated as steadiness and ease.
Sometimes we fall into the habit of thinking of steadiness and ease as an instruction to get the posture “right’ enough to relax in it.
While that would make us look very cool in any crowd and especially in a yoga class, it would hardly serve us in the moment when we need to cope with something that deeply conflicts or challenges us.
When we practice postures, we get physically, emotionally, mentally involved in being more than one thing at a time, focusing deliberately on how to embody opposite qualities not as two things in equal measure, but completely and at the same time.
The steadiness of yoga is unselfconscious engagement.
The ease of yoga isn’t indifference, it’s unstinting confidence. It’s not being above it all, it’s being completely here with integrity, a part of it all.
Trying too hard
There’s the old joke about looking patiently for something, not where you lost it but where the light is best. This is pretty much what listening to our bodies gets us when we’re not asking our bodies useful questions.
One of the trickiest aspects of practice is coming to terms with trying harder.
Almost all of us, at one point or another, try too hard. I mean the way we go about working at something. Working hard at something is as much a skill as it is a discipline, yet we’re most often taught the stick-to-it part, not the part about discernment.
Sometimes when we’re trying to do a posture we behave like people who shout at someone who doesn’t speak the same language. The problem isn’t the other person’s hearing, it’s that we’re not saying anything that can be understood.
That’s exactly what happens in postures. We end up doing more of what we’re already doing, saying the same words louder and louder.
Less isn’t more – being fully present to one thing is
Trying to open up in warrior one doesn’t involve doing a sharper injustice to your sacrum, it involves looking for more length somewhere in your body, exploring how to ground in a way that makes a difference, or figuring out how what it feels like you are doing isn’t really what you’re doing.
In other words, the very sorts of things that help out in life’s paradoxes.
It means looking in the places where the light isn’t so good, looking carefully in the places we can’t feel as clearly as we can feel strength or pain, developing a relationship and a language for the parts of ourselves that have no voice, no communication with the way we run our lives.
This is the best kind of self observation. It’s not all caught up in new age language, pop psychology or smokey mysticism. We’re noticing real life, our real feelings about something. Instead of saying it doesn’t count, we’re practicing making what we observe a question worth entertaining, namely: what’s up with that?
A down-to-earth philosophy
Paradox is not a cerebral or academic subject. It might be the clever philosophical evasion of college sophomores, but it’s also the enduring tension of adult life.
In spite of the fact that we must deal almost constantly with the oppositions of paradox, we’re rarely offered guidance in how to live the truth that paradox obscures. This is the enlightenment, if you will, that practicing yoga provides.
It’s very much the point of posture practice to plunge us into the conundrum of life – our conflicts and pleasures, procrastinations, wiggle room and yearnings – by dealing directly with the practical and accessible everyday truths of our bodies.
Thinking Warrior 1 Thoughts? Get some space!
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.