My teacher Nevine Michaan has managed to dispel several of the myths Iʼve held over romantic notions as to what is “correct” yoga practice. For instance, we all know that you roll to the right side after savasana (corpse pose/relaxation), and for that matter we always do the right side first in all yoga-asana. This is for the simple reason that Prana (the energy of the universe) flows from right to left. Iʼve known this so adamantly that I was always reassured that I was more advanced in my knowledge of the “yogic arts” if I saw an advanced practitioner roll onto their left side. This was until Nevine passingly mentioned, maybe the direction of Prana is why, or maybe the right side of your body is the masculine side and in a patriarchal society the man walks first. I had a student once argue this as a fallacy with me as if it were a personal attack. Knowing Nevine as I do, I knew this wasnʼt an off-color feminist jab at the men in the room; for Nevine it is simply an astute observation of traditions, patterns and history. My teacher has a way of un- romanticizing the mystical and making the mundane mystic. Her follow up was something along the lines of: Just because the planet spins one way doesnʼt mean you always travel in that direction. If you let the planet spin you for too long, you get spun out. You should sometimes go with the flow of the Universe and sometimes with the flow of baseball. Learn to play the universeʼs game and learn to play your own.
She has blown my mind so many times about correct practice and what I thought would bring a spiritual experience. The most recent of which has changed my meditation practice in drastic fashion. In Taoist tradition there isnʼt a right way, there is just the way, a mixing of energies that when in balance produce a path to self realization. This doesnʼt mean donʼt have technique, but there are dancers in every form, from tap to ballet to hip-hop with good technique, and in our modern world we see more mixing of traditions and a “using what works best” mentality. We see this very prevalently in the world of Modern Marital Arts, where the martial artist isnʼt tied to one school but will collect skills from Judo to Boxing that make their personal game most effective.
One of the many myths my great many yoga, spiritual and meditation teachers have provided me with was the essential nature of seated meditation. Though we have artists and athletes who lose time and become absorbed in the flow, this isnʼt recognized as an experience of the zen idea of Kensho (those brief glimpses of enlightenment), but I am hard pressed to find a better example of this experience. Meditation can be found in so many forms and it seems, just like every other aspect of life, one size doesn’t fit all. Please don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think my own movement practice is a substitute for my meditation practice, since the movements practiced are usually quite challenging. I’ve most certainly had experiences where yoga-asana, or a violin performance or a gymnastic ring routine became a meditation, but as a technician, unless a certain chunk of movement practice is allocated to skills already mastered, chances are, entering a meditative state becomes extremely challenging.
Nevine from a recent visit: “If you sit inside all day, don’t do a seated meditation! Go outside and take a walking meditation.” This makes total sense to me. While I believe strongly in the importance of a meditation practice, I also spend much of my time trying to convince people to get off their ass! Though as someone who rarely sits inside, walking meditations don’t exactly pertain to me. A meditation practice should largely be done in a way that isn’t the norm for the practitioner. As Nevine would go on to explain, seated meditation was largely created for a time and culture that didn’t sit much. They laid down, stood up, and squatted mostly, so a seated meditation would be very appropriate for these people. While I don’t lead a sedentary life by most anyone’s standards, I do sit a fair amount: I drive, read, teach violin, eat, spend time on the computer, all of which (some more than others), result in a certain amount of sitting.
Yoga Nidrasana (yoga sleeping pose), and variations of it, seem to have a strong relevance for me right now. Nevine’s spherical plow pose: lying supine on the upper-back, with the knees in the armpits is basically the variation of yoga nidrasana, uncommon enough in my life, but performable in such a way where concentration and breathing isn’t inhibited. It seems to be the right pose for now, though I can see ahead to winter when I am probably not getting enough fresh air and sunshine, so a walking meditation may become more applicable. My point is: I’m finding not only does one size not fit all, one size rarely fits one individual forever. Just like the student who asks if they should stop running on the treadmill as their movement practice? My answer: anything is better than nothing, that still doesn’t mean you are best utilizing your time. I’ve gone in and out of phases with my “seated meditation”: I’m in a pretty strong on phase now, though the seat has changed for a time. My meditation is rarely easy, and I would say I look forward to it only about 50% of the time, though the results are quickly undeniable when the seat is just right.