For this episode of yoga poetry radio I want to talk about trusting in the incremental change that happens with yoga. I understand faith as incremental change that builds the confidence that your actions will have positive outcomes. It took me a good long while to have a felt-sense of this definition. This podcast is the story of that change.
Begin in a seated posture that is comfortable for you. Ground yourself by bringing your attention to your contact with your seat, whatever and wherever that is. Be it seated on a chair, or on the floor with a cushion, or a folded blanket to lift your hips. Whatever you choose do it consciously with the utmost care and concern for this amazing vessel that is your flesh and bones. Draw your awareness into your spine and stack each vertebra, one on top of the other. Feel the muscles of your spine gather in and the space that is created along its whole snaky length. Practice this awareness of your backbone in order to build strength and integrity.
Have you heard the Anne Lamott quote that goes “the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty”? It is with that idea I begin. The full quote from the book called Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith which I pulled from Goodreads is this:
“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns. Faith also means reaching deeply within, for the sense one was born with, the sense, for example, to go for a walk.”
My growing up experience with faith was an exercise in trying to feel certain. That is what I understood the pastor to be telling me as I sat in the pew, or the Sunday school teacher from my school desk and as a child of the ‘70s who moved between communities and loved them all, I was certain that certainty got you nowhere. Certainty would have been and exercise in hatred, anger and discontent. I saw that my future relied on my ability to shapeshift, reload, and engender whatever form served whatever location I was in.
It wasn’t until I came to MBSR (that is mindfulness based stress reduction practice) at common ground meditation center in 2016 and learned to see how I was relating to practice, that I began to discover how supportive this embodied understanding of faith was. Sitting on the mat and bringing your attention back to the present moment again and again by finding some anchor or another to return to, like your breath.
So let’s engage it here. Exhale all the air from your lungs. Inhale through your nose. Open mouth exhale. One more time. In through the nose and out through the mouth. Seal your lips and let your breathing be natural. Awareness to your tummy. Relax your stomach out on the inhale and draw it in on the exhale. Match the length of your inhales to the length of your exhales and stay with your breath.
How are you relating to this practice right now? Is it interesting or boring? Is it painful or pleasant? Do you crave moments like this or are you here about of duty?
Can you see how the object of meditation moves from your ground to your spine, to your breath, and, with the questions, there is the move to the observer self. How are you relating to the moment right now?
Faith is a relationship to the moment that needs time to build, the coming back again and again, to your heart-space and feeding it by opening it and letting gratitude for everything that got you to this exact moment in time come in, or opening it and letting exactly what is going on now be known.
Adjust your shoulder blades to open your heart space right now. Lift shoulders to your ears, gently contract, and then lower them back down. Find gratitude for the slide of tissues and the release of tension as you do it again. Can you feel your breath right there at your heart space? Drawing the breath in through your heart and let the exhale spreading out along the back side of your body, easing anyplace that is holding tension.
Faith allows all the unknown workings of the world to come together. It works on being inclusive so that you can respond to the forces that be. It builds on the understanding of where it is you want to go, how it is you are responding to the things that get in the way of that, and allows you, through trial and error, to see how each little tweak effects your larger trajectory. You can easily recognize this process from things you already know, things you do each day. Parenting. Coaching. Playing an instrument. In yoga the instrument is your body and the cord you may want to learn is moving from down dog to step up as in a sun salutation. If you haven’t been doing yoga recently, the distance between where you are at and where you want to be may seem impossible, but faith allows for incremental change, by opening to whatever is there in that moment and committing to returning again and again. That was how it was for me after a recent shoulder injury. I returned to yoga after letting it go months to allow my shoulder to heal and I was dismayed to discover all of the range of motion I had lost.
Inhale and lift your right arm to the sky. Do this if you have a working right shoulder and then lower your arm on the exhale. Inhale and lift your left arm, likewise if your shoulder is in working order. Trust your body to tell you what it needs. It is your minds duty to listen, give it space, truly experience whatever is coming up and respond accordingly. After all, I am only your guide, your body is your teacher.
Find gratitude for all your shoulder does for you. Move back and forth, letting your arm feel balloon-like on the lift, finding length and space in your side body, and lower on the exhale. Back and forth arch your spine one direction and then the other. Moving from your heart and solar plexus. Find learning and change in the repetition. How are you relating to this movement?
If you find that you are relating with anything other than curiosity and interest, ask yourself, “Hmmm?” I encourage you to say it out loud, if you are in a place where that feels comfortable and see if that gets you to curiosity. Open your eyes wide, tilt your head to the side, and repeat, “Hmm?” Relax your arms down and bring your hands to your knees whether seated in a chair or on the floor. Exhale and find Seated Cat by drawing your tummy in arching your spine. Rock the other direction into Seated Cow by bringing your chest forward and drawing your shoulder blades towards one another. Back to Cat. Tailbone tucks under and pelvic bowl spills back. And then Cow again, tailbone back and pelvic bowl rocking forward. Continue on your own, toggling back and forth with our natural breath. Exhale cat. Inhale cow.
Understanding faith was a process of returning. It needed to be built with my committed and sustained action. And started with that disappointment I felt in my first class back. I had to stay with is even though I hated how it felt. Relate to those very feelings with acceptance. Trust that being there with them was enough to change everything. And having the strength to return the next day, even if I didn’t want to.
Pause and tune in. How do you feel now?
On your next inhale lift both arms, exhale draw right arm back and left arm forward. Look to your right if that feels right on your neck. Inhale back to center and exhale to the left, agin looking back if it works with your neck. Continue breathing and moving into and out of the twist. Take your time and let your chest be lifted and light as breath leads the movement. Learning something new really requires taking the time to develop your skills. This can’t be dogmatic. It’s not, “it’s true because I tell you so.” It begins with an opening to how it feels in your body, that becomes a convention of understanding that is reinforced at each return with a jolt of recognition and eventually there’s a structure that is just natural forward motion.
Come to stillness and let your attention come back to your ground.
Practice and all is coming.
That yoga phrase is poetry. Is it the English language in the mouth of a non native speaker? I have heard it attributed to Patthabi Jois. I always thought it was a translation of the yoga sutra, but now I don’t know. In any case, it has the effect of movement, of the traction of the horizon coming closer of its own accord. All you have to do is arrive at your seat, tune into your body and do all the breathing and gentle movement you want to do.
We will close with the sound of OM. Listen along or join me. As Shakespeare is want to say, And palm to palm is holy palmer’s kiss, hands together at your heart. May all the merit we just created in this practice be vibrationally sent out with the sound and shared with all other beings, known or unknown, nearby or far away.
Thank you for listening and if you find this information and practice helpful please feel free to share it. Like and subscribe so others can find it. Follow the show notes back to my newsletter to see what else I share. Back there there are also resources for further study where I link to other writings of mine that are like this one, including the official website for MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction) which is an evidence based program that has been proven to alleviate many health conditions.
Resources for Further Study:
Here is my post where I write about pausing in your daily tasks to give yourself feedback. It is a description of what task oriented practice is like in real time:
Here is a post where I write about patience and incremental change and staying with the hard things. I link to a great interview of RuPaul on 10% Happier. In anywise, this podcast and that post are connected by this quote of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” This is what I’m talking about: “Practice and All is Coming.”