But what if you were walking from the opposite direction?
All of a sudden what was irrevocably wrong is now correct.
Yoga teaches us that there is not only one way to see things. A shift in perspective is sometimes all that is needed to change the seemingly impossible to possible. Have you ever had the experience of traveling on a dreary, rainy day? There’s traffic getting to the airport, your bags are wet, you don’t know what to do with your wet umbrella, your flight is delayed because of the rain. You finally get on the plane and take off, the plane bounces like it’s on a trampoline as you move through the clouds, and then you break through and poof! Like magic, it’s a beautiful, calm, sunny day. Yoga practice is like popping your head above the clouds, choosing to see what’s always been there but hidden.
In some yoga schools (mostly Ashtanga, although Iyengar mentions it in some poses as well) during asana practice in each pose there is a drishti or gazing point. So throughout a practice we are meant to physically look in different directions and focus our awareness a certain way to quite literally change our viewpoint. It is also one of the reasons we go upside down in virtually every yoga practice. The world looks different from that perspective and sometimes it’s enough to remind us that all we need to do to shift our day, our mood, and our lives is to just look at things in a different light.
Philosophically yoga gives us a different perception of who we think we are. Tantra teaches that all of creation begins as the most ephemeral, ethereal, subatomic particles of light and being, and the Universe has a system of covering up those perfect, infinitesimal particles, layer by layer, becoming denser and denser until creation happens. Everything in creation comes into being this way. There are 36 layers or levels in this system, explained on the tattva chart (meaning “thatness”) and it’s only at level 36 that beings become manifest in the physical realm. (For a depcition and nice, easy to digest description of the tattva chart, click here). At the 6th stage of this process, called maya, differentiation begins. One definition of maya is veil, and at this level of existence it is as if a veil comes over our eyes, a curtain comes down and we forget what is behind it. We begin to identify more with the physical parts of ourselves rather than the spiritual. It’s a necessary step as it is what makes me me and you you, a tree a tree and a hippo a hippo, but it is the cause of much suffering because we forget the truth of who we really are at our essence.
Yoga is an invitation to let go of the narrative you are telling yourself about your body, your emotions, your relationships. To alter the definitions that seem as real and unquestionable as a mathematical proof by simply remembering that there is more than one way to see things. Asana and meditation practice are the gateway to simply remembering who we are - yes a body and thoughts, but also divine light. They help us shift our perspective from seeing ourselves as physical beings living with a spirit, to spiritual beings living inside a body. When that shift happens, even in small ways, even for just a glimpse or a moment, we see how we are all connected. How we are all, at the most basic aspect of our being, light and love and divine energy. It helps us to see the panoramic picture of our lives, to step out of the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and connect to our vast and infinite spirit. Scientist Carl Sagan said “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” The goal of every practice is to shift us from the viewpoint of “My stardust is more important/sad/difficult/better/peaceful/pretty/lucky/tired than your stardust” to simply “Your stardust is my stardust."
On the Mat:
We worked with drishti in many poses, seeing how the change in view changed poses we’ve done many times. We also learned to practice with a soft gaze not a hard stare, seeking a vision of cosmic unity and sending our attention beyond outer appearance to inner essence. We worked a lot with plugging the head of the arm bones back to stay connected to our heart and the truth of our being. Each time we connected to the breath we let it lead us to the place inside that is connected to all things – nature, the universe, and all living beings. And, of course, we went upside down often, shifting perspective to see how that view of things changes, well, pretty much everything.
Off the Mat:
Practice seeing similarities before differences in strangers. Practice letting go of self-limiting narratives about yourself and your relationships. Practice popping your head above the clouds to see a different view before deciding “how things are”.