The body doesn’t lie. Nor does the breath. Not if we look carefully and listen closely. Matters funny, beautiful, wild, deep, powerful, and often fragile are revealed when we approach the practice as if we were listening to "a language against which we have no defenses." The language of poetry is such a language. So is the language of music, and dance, and any mysterious language of artistic expression.
Let's look more closely at poetry. A good poem, or even a good line of poetry, can very swiftly and deftly pierce my heart. I have also found that both poetry and the physical practices of yoga move me in deep and personal ways that the philosophical teachings of yoga (often) do not. With good poetry (like music, or dance, and art in general) my usual defensive mechanisms are stymied and rendered ineffective.
A friend reminded me recently that the poet David Whyte expressed a similar sentiment on the NPR show “On Being” with Krista Tippett. He said that poetry is "a language against which you have no defenses." My friend said that she felt our yoga poses could be like poems. I wholeheartedly agreed! Yes! The practice of yoga is an art if we practice it as such. But what does that mean, how do we do that? What might that look or feel like? Will it be different for each of us? How might we allow our embodied presence to go ahead and speak a language against which we have no defense?
And what if we were to commit to approaching the yogic inquiry (including the philosophy) like a beautiful process or a language against which we have no defenses? How might we do that? How might we live that?
One way is to slow down, pay attention, and listen more closely. Try listening more closely to what is arising and make space for it to be heard. Listening is a form of deliberate practice. There are many powerful and effective ways to engage in deliberate practice. Deep listening is one such way.
We can also be more deliberately playful and even childlike in our practices and inquiries. This “way of play” helps us let go of ourselves, and help us inquire more fully. It is especially fruitful when we feel stuck or scared, or lack enthusiasm. When we play in this way we give ourselves permission to make mistakes, to make a mess, to stumble, to not know. We are more creative. And it helps us let go and dive into the uncertainty that is inherent is life. And engaging in this way means we might find ourselves asking more questions. Remember when you were a curious child and asked again and again "why?"
We also might find ourselves performing experiments. Remember when you learned by experimentation? Maybe you still do. By giving ourselves permission to listen, to question, to experiment, and to play, we might find ourselves waking up to what to what can feel like a whole new world. We might find that we become more at ease and content, right now, in our very own skin. And that includes its wrinkles, pimples, freckles, thickness, and thinness. And that can be a wild and wonderful thing. It can also be a quiet thing. It is surely a beautiful and poetic thing. Why? Because it is real, honest, uncovered, and without a mask of defenses.
We might find ourselves repeating the pose, or an aspect of the pose the way we might re-read a poem or a line of poetry again and again. We might turn it over or upside down. We might turn it inside out, take it apart and rearrange it like a beautiful idea we are trying to understand. And this process never ceases because there is always another point of view. Another way to see and experience that which we cannot really know, cannot really hold as if it were some fixed entity rather than a fluid process that is forever revealing different aspects of itself.
Or we might slow down, because reading or listening to poetry requires us to slow down. We might need to stop, pause, breath, and let the poem/pose/idea/song seep deep into us. We might let it change us, knowing we will never be the same, and it will never be the same. In those moments, however, we are alive, completely alive. And whatever we are communing with comes alive as well.
Does your practice bring you alive? Does the philosophy of yoga bring you alive? If not, ask why. Live the question “how might it?" To quote David Whyte again: "anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you."