I love handouts as much as embodied learning! I don’t receive them very often but have decided to email them weekly to my winter class. Here is an example from Class III on Stithi practice. What are your thoughts on receiving handouts? Useful? Interesting? Inspiring? Or no time for that?!
Don’t Give an Om (Winter Term)
Moon practice 6 May to 27 June 2019
Week 3: Stithi – endless stream of unsurpassed calm
Stithi is a Sanskrit word describing a state experienced as a stream of unsurpassed calm, free of all distractions, flowing from the mind’s essential nature. Being in this state means not being at mercy to our external circumstances. Stithi is the foundation of all meditative practices. While it may sound a bit OTT (over the top!), the tradition says it isn’t a state we have to cultivate. It is a fundamental part of us. However we need to do the work to access it.
In *Yoga Sutras it gives a hint on how this may be done. In 1:13, it says ‘tatra sthitau yatno ‘bhyasah’, which in English means “the ardent effort to retain the peaceful flow of mind free of roaming tendencies is practice”. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait explains the sutra assumes there is a time when the mind is still and space in which it can move peacefully. For us to feel this, we need to stabilise the mind sufficiently to notice the calm. The best approach is by uniting mind with breath. ‘When the mind is calm and clear, the breath flows smoothly. Conversely when the breath flows smoothly, the mind calms and clears’.
So our physical practice will be doing *super simple shapes like forward folds to focus is on breath. Leaning into extended exhales and exhale retentions, gives space for the mind to flow with breath and allow its natural tendency for clarity to unfold. The mind has the opportunity to be fully present if we are committed to being consciously in the moment, aware of the uniting mind and breath. This is the core of the practice as taught to me by my teachers.
Erich Schiffmann says“when you give your undivided attention to experiencing the truth about you – you will experience the conflict-free, calm, dynamic peace of perfectly centred abundant life energy.” This introduces another aspect of the breath. There is the air we draw into our bodies and within that is the life force energy (known as prana) that sustains us.
PRANA life force energy
Senior British yoga teacher, Uma explains it more poetically: “To breathe with reverence is to honour ‘prana sakti’: the power of life itself. Our breath is a vehicle for the life force. There are other vehicles, for example food, and light and other beings, but the breath is of special significance as a means to access vital energy.
In yoga philosophy this energy is understood to be a feminine force, a form of the goddess known as prana sakti, which literally means the power of the life force (prana – life force; sakti – power). When we breath we allow for prana sakti to enter our bodies. Most humans’ breathing is an entirely unconscious business and most people most of the time have little awareness that they are even breathing at all. ..simple intention of all pranayama is to heighten consciousness of the ebb an flow of prana sakti. In sakta tantra, this awareness has a reverential or devotional attitude (bhava) at its heart”.
This is the second part of the practice, welcoming the breath as the inhale is drawn in. Through the gratitude, we extract the maximum energy and move deeper into stithi – the stream of calm.
Home Practice to embody the above – Circle of Flowing Breath by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli
Stage 1 – observe the breath
Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes.
- Allow breath to come and go, in and out of the nose.
- Be aware when the breath comes in and when the breath goes out.
- Just observe and allow the breath to be in its easy, natural rhythm.
- Notice quick breaths, observe slow breaths.
- Become aware of two parts to the breath – inhalation and exhalation.
Option: Welcome each breath and farwell it as it leaves – know that prana sakti (life force) rides the breath in and leaves the body on each exhalation.
Stage 2 – observe the space
Notice the rhythm of shifts from in breath to out breath.
- Observe the place where inhalation turns into exhalation and where exhalation turns into inhalation.
- Perhaps notice that these pauses are spaces and the breath has four parts.
- Inhale, the space between in and out, Exhale, the space between out and in
- The circle of breath has 4 parts: inhale, inhale retention, exhale, exhale retention.
Option: Observation leads to insight. Observing breath intently is to learn what prana sakti has to teach about the uniqueness of each breath. The rhythm is the same and yet everything changes.
The spaces in between is where the endless stream of calm resides.