Saturday, April 15, 2017

Eternity for a Pose: Forward Fold as Prayer

Do you ever feel like you could hold a forward fold pose for an eternity? Bending over, reaching your heart past your toes, letting the head hang, stretching the hamstrings... It feels good, right? I feel like I could go on forever when I'm bowing in some form or fashion.

As we bow our head and let it fall toward the ground, it somehow feels great. Is our body comfortable in this fresh view of self? Is our mind (now joined with our body because: yoga!) curiously intrigued by this unusual state of reverse-seeing the world? Does the posture itself carry meaning that brings us into a more content state of mind? Is this bowing posture intrinsically set up for humility or devotion to something greater than ourselves? How many paintings of people bowing to kings, royalty, friends, angels, or gods exist in earlier periods of the art world? Inclining self to other was often just the basics of greeting and relationship, let alone the tone of devotion it can take in a more spiritual or religious sense.

Forward folds are "forever" poses, I would say, because they naturally trigger self-reflection. I realized that the reflection that is naturally induced as the body folds upon itself may be why it feels so good. This, after months of mulling over in my head something my yoga teacher: In a forward fold, your heart is above your mind.

Why might it be good to let the heart come to a physical position above the head? Perhaps because the heart knows certain things better than the mind, and placing it physically above the mind brings it to that psychic place of primacy too. Mind-body connection thus becomes heart connection. Why place the mind lower on the body totem pole of sensory?

The mind is a terrible thing. A wonderful thing. A terribly incomprehensible, sometimes comprehensible thing. It has a mind of its own, the mind. How many of us our victims of our own mind patterns? Most of the time (optimistically speaking), our mind does us good. The mind helps us live in this world, sense and deduce, speak and act, wonder and fear, desire and enjoy. It also helps us go through the yoga of the action of our daily lives - this is the yoga written about in the Bhagavad Gita. The mind houses our language. It sparks our words, hears our fears, knows our strategies. It is the engine behind the actions we choose as we live, here, in this world. In order to process all that we perceive and be able to respond to it, we need our thinking, our imagination, and our metaphorical ways of conceiving of the world.

Everything is made up of the three gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. According to the ancient school of Indian philosophy, when you boil the world and all its material and psychological contents down, there are the three gunas. This includes the mind, for it is material, and thus a blend of the the three gunas. If we want our mind to be more tame and at peace - avoiding the rushing, the mini-explosions, or even the sleepy cloud of unawareness the mind can cast instead, then our mind must be brought to a more sattvic state. Sattva is not the red hot tone of desire or rage or drive of rajas. Sattva is not the sleepiness, ignorance, or dumbness of tamas. Sattva is when the mind is clear, serene, productively joyous: aware. We can move from rajas and tamas to saatva (of the three gunas, a yogi will say that sattva is the preferable one): we can transform the very matter of our mind, says Dr. Edwin Bryant, specialist in Vedic literature and the Yoga Sutras. We do this through contemplation of the good, meditation on the breath or God. And this, I will add, we can only do after we have embraced an ethics of how we treat others and ourselves (see my post on the yamas and niyamas).