About Me

Yoga changed my Life and it's just too good a thing to keep to myself! I have been practicing yoga since 1995 and am a certified yoga instructor. I teach a combination of classical Hatha, Ashtanga and Vinyasa Flow. My teaching style is safe, compassionate and challenging at the same time. I teach at a number of studios, and also offer private and group lessons!

In addition to my schedule, I post other writings here, about yoga and Life in general. For private or group lessons, contact me at: workofheartyoga@gmail.com .

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Chasing Svasana...

For Lolita-

I'll never forget the first time I understood Svasana...

In a small studio in Queens, NY, Richmond Hill to be exact, I had my first experience of Dhyana, the 7th limb of yoga, and maybe a touch of the 8th. There are 8 limbs in yoga, according to Patanjali. The translations of the Sanskrit differ, depending on who you talk to, but a crass translation is the following:

1. Yama : Universal morality (this one takes some explaining...)
2. Niyama : Personal observances
3. Asanas : Body postures
4. Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
5. Pratyahara : Control of the senses
6. Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
7. Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
8. Samadhi : Union with the Divine

Most people are only aware of #s 3 and 4, which are commonly practiced in US yoga studios. I consider Pranayama and Pratyahara to be inseparable, myself, which is also how I teach Pranayama - as the beginning of your meditative practice. The last 4 limbs are all forms of meditation. That being said, they are hard to define, and it is even harder to describe the experience of each.

But I will never forget the feeling, that still rests deep in my bones, and in my heart.

I went to a late night class. It was winter in New York. I sloshed through grey snow the few blocks from my house to the studio that magically opened up two days after I swore insanity was knocking at my door while I was starting graduate school. I felt a calling to Social Work, but was struggling with working in communities that dealt with extreme poverty, illness and violence and not being swallowed by despair. Working 70 hours a week didn't help either.

I shook off my puffy coat, and my badly fitting jeans, peeled off my thermals and unbunched my yoga pants from my, well, butt crack, to be perfectly honest. I felt disheveled, out of place, tired, heavy, and very very lonely.

I looked around the small studio, candles lit, warm light bouncing gently off the hardwood floor, the small statue of Ganesh in the corner wreathed in flowers. "Yes, Ganesh. Guide me through the sludge in my head, and the F train commute..." I thought.

I rolled out my mat, and laid down. The only light the entire class was by candle. I was happy to be in the dark warm glow of candles, to sweat, to listen to the soft lilt of my teacher's German accent.

At the end of class, Asana done, my breathing slow and steady, we sat in meditation for a moment in sukhasana (soft- cross legged pose). I heard through the chatter in my own head, "April, you are leaning forward. Sit back a little. Relax. Release your anxiety," my teacher whispered as the slightest touch of her forefinger drew my shoulders gently back over my hips.

I was amazed by how much I was leaning forward, as if sitting on the edge of a cliff, nervously peering over the side. I flipped some switch, and let go of any judgment of my spazzy posture, and just observed passively. I was leaning forward, anticipating my whole life. I realized, I did it all the time, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Never being fully present in the moment, but looking ahead to the next. It was exhausting. It is the work I will continue to address for quite some time.

As we stretched out for Svasana, I wondered if I could let go even more deeply. So I relaxed each muscle, stopped thinking, and just followed the sound of my inhale and exhale. After a few minutes, I let go of the sound of my breathe. I felt my mind turn inward - and felt my awareness sink more deeply into my body. I feel both heavy and light at the same time. I let go of directing my focus to my breathe or any one feeling, and suddenly was very aware of every part of myself, the room, the world outside, and it certainly felt like everything beyond it. It was as if time stopped, gravity ceased to exist, and I was floating, yet anchored to the core of the earth. I felt very at peace.

I have no idea how long I was in this state, nor did I care. After some while, I heard my teacher's voice, calling me (us) back and felt myself sitting up slowly. After class, as I packed my things and calmly dressed in my awkward layers of clothing, I thanked my teacher very quietly, not wanting to disturb my feeling of calm awareness. I walked home, kissed my soon-to-be husband, and went about my evening. I slept undisturbed the whole night through for the first time in many years.

I had experienced glimpses of it before, moments of sustained focus and concentration... of being "in the zone." But this, this was a deep and luxurious, lovely place in the space/time continuum I very much wanted to visit again.

The trick, I've found, is to welcome it when it comes, and not to chase it. Like looking for a star during twilight. If you try too hard to look directly at it, it disappears. I find that relaxing my gaze, breathing deeply and enjoying the transition to night allows the full spectrum of beauty to reach me. It's really the only way I can think to describe it. You don't find Svasana or Samadhi, it will find you.

April KirkHart