Taozi Tree Yoga is so proud to present… a special guest post…
STRUCTURED IMPROV: Part 2~ Faraaz Tanveer
To love is to pay attention. If you love something/ someone, you pay attention to them. Meditation is a way of learning various ways of loving oneself. Different ways in which I can pay undivided attention to what’s going on inside and thus be deeply in love with myself.
In my opinion, the ubiquitous presence of the stereotypical image of a great master sitting still and cross legged does more harm than good. It diverts attention towards the outer form and gives a misleading impression that everyone should meditate in only THIS way. Silent sitting may be the culmination point of a more active process for some people and a starting point for some others. You may prefer a more dynamic form of ‘moving meditation’ or have a preference for chanting or breathing exercises or just sitting silently. Traditionally in India meditation is always based on initiation by a master and the practice given by him/ her is as per the student’s nature and inclination. Bespoke and private.
Meditation, like love, is an ambiguous term. Any technique that helps in integrating and focusing one’s energies and turning them inwards can be termed as meditative. Try out different styles and then choose the one that appeals to you most. My own practice has been ‘traditional ‘ chanting and breath & body awareness . Then recently I came across ’5 Rhythms’ – a form of dancing meditation and loved it!! There is certainly value in sticking to a path once you have made a choice to allow for more depth but at the same time I find that my regular, disciplined practice gains from the freedom I allow myself in exploring new avenues as well.
Everyone can benefit by adopting meditative practices into their lives. Just like going for a brisk walk every day is beneficial , so is taking 15 minutes in the morning to sit silently and observe one’s breathing. Then one may decide to jog, get good running shoes and maybe even participate in half marathons every now and then. Similarly, one can graduate to a more regular meditative practice and attend workshops, retreats and community groups on a regular basis. Then there are those who want to run on a competitive level. They will be advised to join a training school and regulate their diet & lifestyle accordingly. Similarly, if a certain style of meditation really appeals to you, you may decide to go deeper and have dedicated, long term training under a certain lineage and also regulate your lifestyle and other practices to support it. Finally, some amongst us would be interested in and suited for international competitions and make it a life’s work. This required mentoring from an experienced coach and long hours of carefully structured training. Similarly, those who want to delve deeper into the realms of meditation and want to make it the central focus of their life will do well to find a master who can provide guidance and support. Meditation is not competitive, but I guess you get the message that I am trying to convey! No effort in this direction goes waste. Even a small ste bears fruit and points one inwards.
Then there are some people who claim that, “ You don’t need to DO anything. You already are IT! …” and so on. I agree with the philosophical premise but also like to point out the fact that it is not helpful for most people. These days there is an influx of young ‘advaita’ teachers who talk for hours in workshops and write long articles about how useless the whole process of putting ‘effort’ is. This line of thinking also seem to subtly imply that the ‘practitioners’ amongst us are somehow spiritually inferior . If someone really ‘gets’ the ‘no effort – already is’ logic, that’s it! I would expect that person to have a much richer and deeper, moment-to-moment experience of life. But what I often come across are people stuck in the inertia of mental gymnastics, endlessly wrestling with abstract concepts and trying to fit them into the jigsaw puzzle of their personal spiritual philosophy.
Gyana yoga ( Yoga of knowledge) is just one of the paths among many that are suggested by the traditional systems. Even within this format, contemplation that leads to a deeper, non verbal awareness is the goal. So watch out when you find yourself slipping into intelligent and cool sounding abstractions which don’t make any difference to your day to day, moment-to-moment living. There is value in these words but also a danger of keeping us trapped in ‘head trips’.
We often talk of the importance of expression and sharing. I also believe that I gain a lot from genuine, heartfelt and creative communication. This is a point that doesn’t need any extra emphasis. What I want to draw your attention to is the limitations and pitfalls inherent in the process of communication. In my experience, just like there is , “ Lost in translation”, there is also a very real, “ Lost in communication”. The moment you decide to communicate an experience by codifying it with words, some of its original richness and uniqueness is lost. This is especially true for emotions and feelings.
Don’t be in a hurry to describe and capture your experience during your practice. Allow some time to just experience it. You don’t always have to answer the question, “ How am I feeling?”. You ARE feeling it. That’s enough. In my experience, when physical and emotional feelings are given the space to express themselves and to be experienced fully, they lead to deep insight and direct action. As soon as I bring in the filter of language and mind,, they seem to lose some of their vitality and transforming potential.
This is one of the reasons why in the traditional yogic system the students are advised to keep their personal practice private and to only discuss its details with their Guru/ teacher. You are encouraged to share the merits of the practice with others but discouraged from gossiping/ boasting about the details of the experiences. Now I can see the value of this advise.
This chakra also represents creative expression. In terms of creative ideas, I recently came up with a flowing, moving meditation sequence that is derived from the Ashtanga Vinyasa Sun Salutation A and the movements in the Namaz, the Muslim traditional prayer. These are the two most popular vinyasa sequences in the world, so I thought why not combine them! Most students loved it while it didn’t do a lot for some. That’s the best that you can expect for any creative idea, so I was happy!
I also like working with combining principles of Tai Chi and Reiki with Yoga. And new ways of structuring classes, like the Chakra based Yin sequence that I’ve been sharing for the last few months. I think once the basic principles have been understood,, there is a lot of room for creativity. Creative breadth and creative depth.
One of my ideas that I would like to materialize some day is a vision for a Mysore style practice studio that offers asana, movement, energy work and meditation. This is how I would like to run my studio, if/ when I do so in the future.
This place works on a membership model. Every new member gets a one-on-one consultation with the teacher, who assesses their goals and requirements and gives them an initial set of practices, spanning asana, breath work, energy work and/ or meditation. All members come in during the ‘self practice’ time slots ( morning and evening). Teachers are available at hand to supervise, adjust and support. The class starts and ends with a group prayer and chant. For rest of the time, all students are on their mats, doing their own thing. There are mid-morning slots available where members can drop in any time while the teachers do their self practice in the same room. There is a review one to one session for the members every month.
Having a set sequence makes Ashtanga Vinyasa Mysore style classes easier to conduct, but I am sure it can still be done with a varied set of practices. The image of a community of practitioners, doing varied self practice sessions in the same room and supporting each other with their presence is very beautiful and powerful to me. Also, since it is not a set sequence, there is no comparison or competition. We all come together, start and finish together, while working as per our own nature and capacities. This is real structured improv.!
There are some led classes on weekends, when walk in students can have a taste of what is on offer. Also, internally, teachers can work out a loose framework to help them decide how to use their individual strengths to maximum effect and to ensure smooth progress for long term students. But corporate style sterile ‘consistency’ is neither a goal nor desirable. This system will invariably be influenced by the individual styles of the teachers. It will also foster deeper student-teacher relationships.
I am sure there are ways in which this idea can be refined. If any of you would like to work along these lines, please go ahead and make it happen! I would be happy to brainstorm and give my inputs if required, but I don’t expect to be involved. My main concern is with the materialization of the idea, not with WHO does it! I think this is a concept whose time has come.
One of the main intuitive insights for me recently has been the realization that opposites can simultaneously be true. Free will and determinism. Unity and duality. Activity and receptivity. And that truth lies in the space that contains both.
If waves in the ocean represent our individual selves and various other forms in the ocean of existence, does a wave have free will? YES, from a wave’s point of view. It moves around ‘interacting’ with other waves, influencing and being influenced by the whole system. And NO, from the point of view of the ocean. There is just ONE movement in this moment, being expressed in the form of many waves. The very existence of a wave as a separate entity is in question here, so the question of free will doesn’t even come up. Which view is correct? Both. Which view is wrong? Both. What is the truth? It is the space that contains both ‘views’. Which view is more helpful in improving the quality of my life? Relatively, depends on the situation. Ultimately, neither.
So instead of trying to find definitive answers to existential questions, I like to stay with the questions themselves. Sometimes that gives me a glimpse ( for lack of a better word) of the space that contains the questions and ‘answers’. That, for me, is the real answer to all such questions. Such insights bring about lasting transformation, even without aiming for one.
Please feel free to get in touch. My e mail id is: email@example.com,
***This has been a special guest post by Faraaz Tanveer. He was one of my yoga teachers at Rishikesh Yog Peeth, in Rishikesh, India, in November-December 2012. He is truly an amazing teacher, so full of wisdom. Thank you so much for your thoughtfulness in this post!
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