For dedicated practitioners, it’s easy to know the benefits of yoga and meditation. Perhaps this is true because we have gained the wisdom and knowledge to assess, evaluate, and discern the effects of yoga on our minds and bodies.
Or maybe not, perhaps we just feel it.
I have always found this aspect of meditation to be mysterious, and so deeply interesting. With many things in life, we assess, evaluate, discern, and then something happens – an outcome. For example, when I think about my checking account, I assess my current balance, evaluate what I need to keep the balance where I want it to be, and discern whether certain expenses are appropriate or not. When I do all of these things, I get an outcome – I hit just the right balance to make me feel comfortable (to satisfy the needs of my ahamkara). I have attached myself to the outcome. Too little money, and I feel uneasy, too much money, and I feel the urge to spend it.
And while this systematic approach holds some value in my yoga practice, it is certainly not everything. Behind every movement, every breath, and every dynamic process of the mind, there is a flow of something that I can only describe as feelings. Those feelings might be bold one moment and calm the next. Sometimes, those feelings can be so powerful that they create a sense of awe and wonder. Certainly, it seems that this flow of feelings is not the product of my assessment or evaluation. Instead, behind all of the rationalization of the mind there’s a flowing stream, and every once in a while, I get to dive in and witness it fully.
Witnessing flow doesn’t only happen in yoga and meditation, but these practices make it easier to recognize.
A couple times a month, my family and I visit a local beach and natural habitat. Rocky outcroppings dot the beach forming small pools teeming with life. Each time we go, we swim and search the tidepools for the biggest anemones or starfish. We wade among the shellfish and watch the sea ebb and flow. We also spend hours building elaborate and carefully constructed sandcastles. Shaping sand into a castle helps me to recognize something that is so strikingly obvious: sandcastles (like everything) are inherently impermanent. By design, the castles are fleeting, and so we hold no attachment to the outcome, no matter how beautiful. When we let go of the fact that the ocean will soon dissolve our castle into sand (or small feet will smoosh it down), we free ourselves from the confines of the object, and are able to experience the process. Behind all the digging, sculpting, and shaping, we experience the flow of feeling without attachment. Unlike my checking account balance, I don’t attach myself to the outcome.
Our ability to witness may be the true source of yoga’s benefits. When we understand that the castle will soon dissolve back into sand, we are free to witness the vast and delicate flow of feelings. This flow may lead us in directions that support our health and wellbeing, with much less focus on the outcome and how we judge success. What would happen if I could assess, evaluate, and discern the details of my practice without a concern about the outcome? It would be like watching the flow of money into and out of my checking account without worrying about whether it is enough. Sounds a bit scary, but also very liberating. A perfect thing to explore.
So, with a beginner’s mind, what steps do we take to hone our ability to witness this flow and allow it to guide us to health, and how do we guide our own students? We could scour internet videos, bury ourselves in yoga articles, or dedicate every practice solely to developing our witness. This is the approach we often take when learning a challenging pose or new breath technique. Although this tried-and-true approach is definitely valuable, maybe – just maybe – it’s much simpler than that. Maybe we all just need a day at the beach.
Bio: Nathan took his first breath in 1981, and has been learning how to breathe ever since. He is a certified Pranakriya Yoga teacher and has trained extensively with Yoganand Michael Carroll, Steven Valloney, and many others. He has been practicing yoga for 21 years and teaching for 13.
For Nathan, yoga provides the underlying structure from which the rest of his persona has been adjusted, affecting most aspects of his life. He is dedicated to helping his students find self knowledge and the power that comes from connecting breath to movement. His teaching style is meditative, internal and dynamic and is known for his use of storytelling in his instruction.
Nathan is an artist, scientist, and yogi currently residing in Riverside, CA with his wife, Angela and their two children. Very often, he and his family are creating, hiking, camping, and exploring the natural world together. They strive to live life fully alive in every moment and to teach their children to do the same.