Now that I’m teaching yoga in a gym setting, there are all sorts of questions I ask myself about my own practice, my teaching, and about what yoga is — or what I might reasonably assume a regular office worker wants it to be in their mid-week lunch break. Interesting questions, for which I don’t have good answers yet. But that’s OK. I’ll learn, refine, adapt — and then change my mind! Currently I’m having a dilemma about chanting OM in this class. I haven’t yet and probably won’t, even though that’s not true to my own practice or what I teach in my own home. But in the gym, I think the start of practice is more about settling the group, focussing them, helping them find their breath on some level. I’m not teaching philosophy, it’s more a physical class than shared sadhana. I can dispense with OM, I reckon — though weirdly I find myself unable to close class without a ‘namaste’…
In my own practice, I’ve been paring back a little the past couple of weeks, trying to see into the heart of the practice. What is the essence? How simple can I make it, what can I omit? Will this help me define what I need in my gym-based class, I wonder? I was also slightly stung, or just plain confused, by some comment from my teacher about the distractions of different elements of practice. I had been enjoying balancing various strands of practice, seeing how they inform one another, providing different perspectives on the work and revealing what for me is easier and what more challenging. But maybe he meant there’s too much cerebral satisfaction in Sanskrit study, too much self-conscious artistry (desired, not achieved!) in chanting, too much logical abstraction in anatomical knowledge…? Too much ego??
From here I come back to OM, the simplest chant there is. Maybe I should dwell here, resisting the fanciness of the Gayatri mantra, the ego-filled desire to learn the Hanuman Chalisa, even putting aside the harmonium because it makes my OM sound/feel ‘better’ but isn’t essential?
But of course the simplicity of OM belies a veritable cosmos of meaning. Just as my teacher’s exhorting just to “get on the mat and breathe” is a short way of describing a very challenging practice: it needs many more years of experience than I have to truly unite breath and movement, even at the physiological level let alone all the more subtle stuff….
So I have been exploring this simple OM, playing with the sounds, the articulation points literally in the mouth but somehow also in the body, feeling the resonance of the syllable through my physical practice. But I’m irresistibly drawn to consider it intellectually also, reminding myself of the four states of consciousness it represents, looking at the form of the symbol and how the meaning is attached to the various curves — not forgetting the dot! Oh, the dot! That’s the interesting bit right? The bindu, the turiya, the fourth state of consciousess, the silence that lies beyond the chant, beyond the dividing line of maya (illusion). Almost out of view at the top of the symbol, out of intellectual reach certainly. How can this dot represent both the final nasalised sound as well as the silence? I feel the sound rise from my lips, vibrating up through my skull, and maybe releasing into the place beyond….
The bindu seems to represent my perception of yoga: there’s no binary, no logic, no definitive answers. Just a constant reframing of questions, a new perspective in which to understand things that defy understanding. I strive to find a way of verbalising the ineffable. My intellect seeks solid ground, but my spirit wants to rise up and be free. The tangible evaporates. Go beyond, beyond the beyond.
So even in my attempts to simplify, paring my practice back to to a single syllable chant, simple shapes, a basic meditation of observation — even in what feels almost an austere practice like this, I realise I can’t rest here. It is in my nature to be curious, to ask questions, to seek new ways of seeing… That’s where I am. I need these distractions. I’m not ready for simplicity, even if it’s what my teacher advocates. Maybe it’s style(!) over substance, but that’s what I have right now. My practice just isn’t that profound. Maybe simplicity will follow. Maybe the stillness and silence develop…
Maybe one day I’ll rest without asking so many questions of myself and the practice.