“Adventures Abroad” at Taozi Tree Yoga is proud to present…
STRUCTURED IMPROV! – Faraaz Tanveer
…That’s my ‘life theme’ these days. To use structures (of thought, practices, groups) that facilitate a deeper insight and experience. And then to improvise within those structures to make them one’s own. Active and Receptive. Force and Form. And out of this dance of seemingly opposing complementarities emerges a movement that is truly unique, in the moment and creative.
An example of how I apply it in my yoga practice & teaching is to work with standard sequences and postures like Ashtanga Vinyasa and Hatha asanas and then to slowly give space for the body to improvise and express itself. Any yogic practice is a conversation – listening and talking. And the yogic postures are like beautiful words with deep meaning and energetic connotations that facilitate a deeper conversation. So we ‘talk’ using the asanas and recite beautiful ‘poems’ of the sequences but many times forget the listening aspect. To listen IN while the body is doing a posture/ kriya/ chant and to be receptive and open to what it has to say. Once a feedback loop is established and the activity feeds the receptivity feeds the activity and so on…. That’s when the creative rhythm takes over and makes every session juicy and deep.
Ask yourself this question: Do you want to be a tourist or an explorer? Do you have a fixed set of ‘sights’ that you want to visit or are you more enthused by journey itself, moving and flowing and finding your way as you go along, allowing the journey to shape your map? If you are a ‘yogic tourist’ life can often be stressful and chances are that many times you will find yourself in places where you feel stuck; using maps that are static and not your own, always running towards the next destination.
On the other hand if your main focus is on being a skillful traveler and engaging in a creative conversation with your inner self; your body and your mind, chances are that you will enjoy the journey much more. And then the practice will take you to places you couldn’t have imagined or aimed for before. The goal is not the achievement of pre set markers but the progressive deepening of awareness.
While thinking about writing this piece I was wondering what structure I could employ to improv. in? I finally settled for the seven elements/ chakras in our body. Here I mainly focus on beliefs or conventions that in my opinion should be questioned and reevaluated. I’ve improvised with sentence construction and grammar at a few places, to convey the meaning more clearly. Hope you derive some form of value from the discussion…
EARTH/ Mooladhara: the Body-
…It is in vogue in spiritual/ yogic circles to urge one to go ‘beyond the body’.
“You are not the body.”, “This body will die eventually.”,“All this is impermanent and will have to be left behind.”, “Senses lead to delusion. “, “Go beyond the senses.” … and so on.
I find that such statements are not helpful at all! Mostly they just tend to cause confusion, disconnect and act as fodder for useless mental gymnastics. What is your experience RIGHT NOW? Are you the body? Do you connect with the world through the senses? No matter what someone says and advises, staying true to one’s own experiences is always the key.
My experience is that I AM the body and I live fully in my senses. This human body is an amazing gift, so rich and juicy and intricate and perceptive. In Vedic mythology it is said that the even the all powerful Celestial beings from the ‘higher planes’ need to take a human birth if they want enlightenment. Body is the door. Body is the key. Body is the temple. Tantric philosophy talks of the microcosm of the body reflecting the macrocosm of the universe. All gods and goddesses (archetypes of energy and intelligence) are mapped on this very body. This body is the ultimate place of worship. So before talking about going ‘beyond’ the body, let’s first get IN it fully!
One way of going into deeper states of awareness in the body is to always ‘play on the edge’. In asana practice, always look for the ‘edge’ (of both strength and flexibility) and then play around it. The edge will vary from day to day and will move over time. As long as you are playing on the edge in the moment, while maintaining full awareness of breath and body sensations, you are deriving full benefits from the practice. In my opinion, this should be the criterion for judging a practice session. Not the external aesthetics of ‘achieving’ a pose or the ‘feeling’ one gets during and after the session but the ability to find and stay on the edge and the quality of awareness throughout the session.
This is not to discount the impetus for achievement and new learning. It is a reminder not to sacrifice depth for breadth.
WATER/ Swadisthana: Emotions-
…are the fuels that run our engines … that move and flow and push and pull and throw and stick and press and propel and project and absorb. Generally we have a tendency to favour ‘positive’ emotions and avoid ‘negative’ ones. I also find that sometimes the language and ‘tone’ in the yoga community seems to subtly favour brighter emotions over the darker ones. In my experience all seemingly ‘opposite’ emotions are two extremes of the same continuum. We can feel happiness only to the extent that we have come to terms with our own sadness. Pleasure is deep when pain is real.
It is not the emotions themselves but our thoughts about these emotions that keep us stuck. If you allow yourself to be open to all emotions and have a willingness to feel deeply, you will be surprised how the ‘real thing’ is very different from the warning on the label!
We come to the mat with our emotions and it will be foolish to deny them in the quest for a picture perfect, ideal session. If we acknowledge and let the emotions seep in and fuel our practice, it is surprising how much energy is freed up in the process. Instead of fighting with them, acknowledge them and go on with the practice. Don’t let the thoughts ‘about’ them distract your attention or change the basic structure of the practice but let the feelings themselves run free and allow them to bring some element of improvisation into the practice. It maybe the speed, transitions and ‘mood’ of a flow, the choice and duration of holding asanas or doing breath work or the choice, volume and tone of a chant. If you let emotions overpower you and let them dictate your practice (interfering with the technique, depth of attention or making you skip steps) it is a problem. Equally problematic is when you completely deny their existence and aim at a ‘consistent’ practice that does not reflect your present state of being.
FIRE/ Manipura: Ego-
…the favorite whipping boy of all spiritual talk. Fixing, removing, suppressing, ‘dealing with’, sublimating….. all the nasty things that we want to do to this poor friend! In my experience a healthy, fully formed Ego is the first step towards real growth and wisdom.
It is not possible to lose something if you don’t HAVE it! In Indian tradition it is said that when the Ego is Ripe, it falls off on its own accord, like a ripe fruit. So the emphasis should be on working towards a healthy Ego , fully self aware and working consciously towards its self interest. In the process you may realize that the highest good for you is in actions that also bring about the highest good for others. That’s when our sense of personal self acts as a doorway for a more intuitive sense of the universal.
Another way in which a healthy attitude towards the Ego can find expression is having a sense of personal style. A point of view that is true and unique for your personality. I often find that yoga practitioners get lost in the sea of quotations and ‘wisdom teachings’, always aware of the ‘correct, spiritual answer’ to all questions. Then the spiritual journey is just a task that needs to be completed, a burden. This also applies to more tangible practices. An unquestioned adherence to any style or recommendation is never helpful. Questioning, being creative and having a point of view are all essential perquisites for making a teaching one’s own.
I am often surprised by how often yoga practitioners talk about , “ How should I feel right now?”, “ Where should I feel this?” , “How am I supposed to deal with this?” and so on. Some pointers with regards to safety are understandable, but too much doubt with little self awareness does not leave any room for exploration or new insights. In some tantric traditions it is said that, “ The only sin is lack of awareness.” I agree. If the main focus is on deepening self awareness, all peripheral questions get answered by and by.
Why do you do yoga? I do it because I feel it is beautiful. It is poetic and puts me in a state of flow. Healing, growth, wisdom etc. are all outcomes of being able to access that beautiful place. That’s my point of view and that’s what I share in my style of facilitation. What is yours?
Stay tuned for Part 2!
***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, we can’t wait for Part 2!
***Check us out on Facebook- Taozi Tree Yoga– for more on our travels and shared yogic words of wisdom***