March 12, 2013

Make Your Body Your Temple, Your Asana Your Ritual, Your Breath Your Prayer.

Highline (photo by Jeremy Patlen Photography)

Think of your body as the temple in which you do your spiritual practices.

So instead of simply rolling out your mat or getting to the studio, make the process a part of it. The walk or drive you take to get there, the organizing of your time in order to make it happen, the delaying of calls and emails so that you can squeeze some asana into your overcrowded day-think of these activities as preparatory.

Dressing for the temple, walking toward the temple, entering the temple. It is all a slow move inward.

From the minute you decide to practice asana, decide that that moment is where the practice begins. Even if you have a full day of work to get through or a commute to the studio, when you think, In four hours I’ll go to class, let that thought initiate the practice itself. Then everything you do between that initial thought and your body moving on your mat is a gathering up of materials, a bathing, a dressing, a lighting of candles, an integral preparatory part of a greater whole.

Climbing Palani Temple Steps – the climbing is part of the ritual (photo SHR.com)


Let this shift in thinking infuse your daily activities with intentionality. There is a reason why we set an intention at the beginning of our practice. We want our movement to carry meaning. We want more than simply, “Step your right foot forward for Warrior I.” When movement carries conscious meaning, it becomes far more than simply movement.

I went through a big shift last year.

A year ago this week I had knee surgery. Although my physical practice was severely limited as I healed, I took the time in which my body was so unusually constrained to refine my verbal instructions so I could just sit while teaching, as I ironically invited people into their bodies through my words. I couldn’t say, as I usually did, Oh, just do it like this, and kick out a quick demo.

As a friend of mine observed, for the first time asana was actually difficult for me. I had to pause, plan, and think in a new way.

Ola Widera, Meenaksi Temple, Madurai 2010 (photo SHR.com)

I learned a lot from the experience, as I’ve already written. But its relevance to what I’m writing now is the fact that everything was very slowed down for me, since my days had to be in service to my knee. So parts of my day I had not previously associated with my teaching practice now had to become an integral part of it.

I could no longer dash out the door of my apartment and speed walk down to Virayoga, giving the studio manager palpitations as I bounced into the studio my usual five minutes before class. I had to leave early and walk slowly and make the getting to the studio a part of my personal ritual.

I spent a year learning a lesson about slowness, thoughtfulness and intentionality.

Crystal Mala from Chidambaram (photo SHR.com)

I regularly ask my students, Can you think of your practice as prayer?

Think of each asana as a bead on a mala, each an opportunity to touch something you love. Your breath is the thread connecting pose to pose, stringing together the beads of your practice so that you can hold your intention in different ways, in different containers, seeing which form offers the most meaning for you today.

Choose to make every thought, movement and gesture toward your practice a part of your practice. And here’s a thought: even if you don’t get to your mat, you are still engaged in your practice. It’s a much more compassionate way of thinking, and that should be part of your process as well. Try it.

Make your body your temple.

Make your asana your ritual.

Let your breath be your prayer.

With Noah Maze, Meenaksi Temple, Madurai 2012 (photo SHR.com)


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Ed: Kate Bartolotta


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