As I sit here, exhausted from trying to handstand…trying, trying, trying….trying for that slow, controlled movement, that graceless precision that comes from hour upon hour of literally training and feeling into the body, I think that this must mirror the purpose of life itself. Not only is it trying to achieve some-thing, some asana, some posture, but it is really about Mastery. That is what this is really about. And tonight it hit – like a ton of bricks: All the stuck places in my head, my thoughts, my consciousness, that is where I am stuck in my physical yoga practice, in my body.
In Daoism, the center of spiritual realization is not in the heart, most definitely not in the head, but in the GUT. Deep, deep down in the center of the low belly, in the center of the body. Hui Yin they call it. All of Daoist practice is aimed at essentially strengthening and supporting this energetic center and its supporting structures. In Yoga, this correlates to Uddiyana Bandha, deep in the low belly. For a long time I’ve thought I would someday come across the muscles that correspond with Uddiyana Bandha…until today. Today I realized, it IS an ENERGETIC center. There are no corresponding muscles. Let me state that again, if you think there are corresponding muscles, there are not. It is an energetic center. After 15 years of physio-spiritual exploration through yoga and other means, I can state with certainty that there are not muscles as part of the “gut center.” There are some muscles that lay over this particular Center of Power and that contribute to lift in handstand, jumpbacks etc, but they are not IT. That is why a lot of old yoga masters harped on bandhas, not muscles. This Center is accessed through a particular action in the body as well, but I’ll save that for another post.
Whatever weakness is in this “Gut Center,” will show up in handstanding practice directly. Especially if one is going for the super slow controlled movement, all the way up, and all the way down. The beauty of it is, the weaknesses link exactly to points in consciousness, belief systems, “blank spots” where a practicioner refuses to look, and other ‘tweaks’ of consciousness that exist as ways we keep ourselves unenlightened. Holdings, if you will. If I look deeply into that gut center as I practice the lift into handstand from forward fold, there is a point where consciousness literally gets cut off – and I cannot move my legs anymore at that point. I am going to encourage practicioners to investigate this for themselves. Of course, one has to have a certain level of strength (and flexibility to get the feet close to the hands) to begin the process of lifting into an arm balance, but one must start somewhere. Especially if handstand is part of your yoga dream, however far off it may appear. Just start.
And this is where I want to talk about failure and its utter inevitability. Every. Single. Person. Who has ever practiced yoga (or lived for that matter) has experienced failure. And, if they are practicing honestly, no matter how advanced, they experience a degree of failure every time they practice. There will always be places the human body cannot go. Now, there are always degrees of success intermingled of course. But I really have been thinking about this aspect of failure. It’s quite like life, in that we have to experience a certain amount of pain and suffering in order to call up the energy of Transformation. Failure is inevitable, and necessary, and good. Without it, there would be no desire to transform, in practice or in life. There would be no desire to further open the body or further expand consciousness, which are exactingly linked for most yogis who are paying attention.
As I crashed into the wall tonight while attempting to backbend my way into a handstand, the energy of transformation just showed up. There it was, having me sense into the fact that I haven’t achieved in practice what I might have thought, no matter how great the physical act, if I did not have the smooth, clean awareness all the way through the action. This is really what I speak to a lot in my own teaching, for those of you who have taken class. And it is a tall order, but then again, so is the whole premise of yoga. Enlightenment through the physical body. If an awareness, a realization, goes all the way through the body at deep levels, you can bet it is the “real deal.” Even if it does not stick around, the realization “comes back for every single part of itself,” as Mukti said to me recently. It will work itself out in you. Not – you will work it out. It will work itself out in you. That is why the body craves sacred physical practice, yoga. For those who have yoga as part of the path, you know what I mean!
Mukti’s husband, Adyashanti, also talks about the “existential grip in the gut” when he gives dharma talks. You may not even know you have an existential grip in the gut, but when the awareness of it comes, there’s no denying it after that. Apparently it is something everyone has, until, practice leads them into letting go. And that is really what most helpful spiritual practices are about, right? In yoga, we strengthen and open the body and release physically so we can let go. In daoist practices of chigong, we strengthen meridians and organs, gather energy at hui yin, so that we can let it all go. Letting go requires strength, paradoxically.
In the wake of explosive moments of realization, what is the basic characteristic? What is Freedom? It is release. No grasping, no holding, no desire. It is the big “Let Go.” In mind, body, and spirit. It is dancing wildly, with abandon, upon the grave of contraction and self-consciousness. We transcend the body through the body, in spite of the body, and WITH the body. What hearts and eyes come alive then!
Everything is like that. I have to desire so hard, so much, that I finally let go. I have to crash into the wall first, though, and suffer the pain. Then, eventually, in the letting go, the goal is reached. Each attainment is a little bit of an ego killer – if you do it right. The spontaneous arising of the Joy of Grace. Holding onto ego creates “blind spots” that you have to go back and undo. It creates separation that has to be realized does not really exist. So, love your failures. Let them rip you indiscriminately and totally apart. Feel the pain of them totally.
There are many who have attained physically great acts. But, that means nothing if it just physical. What are we serving? If we cannot live in innocence, in moment-to-moment awareness as we go through our day (for that is the true practice), we have not attained as much in practice as we think we have. WHERE IS YOUR HEAD WHEN YOU ARE IN PRACTICE? Every. Moment. When I lose track of moments, especially in yoga practice, I know there is some seeking left to give up. Not that there is something to do. There is something to give up. So that I may stay in This Moment, and not stray into fantasy or regret.
So, fearlessly investigate your body, your practice, your consciousness. Do not assume you have attained, for in that, you can be sure you have not. I speak from experience. If you are reading this, I challenge you to go back and investigate in consciousness what you have taken for granted. Those are the places for improvement.