The practice of Yoga has come to mean many things to many people and is embraced widely for its wonderful physical benefits and regulation of our day to day mental health. For some this is sufficient as this experience of Yoga has fulfilled its purpose. For others, the physical postures can be an end to pursue in itself, expressed through ever more challenging and complex postures with the harnessing of physical discipline to execute them. Like many other forms of physical ability this requires both a mental development and discipline (often identified as mindfulness) coupled with intense physical development.
Whether we’re practicing to feel better or seeking to develop our physical capacity is this all Yoga and mindfulness have to offer? Is our Western emphasis on the physical aspects of yoga backed with an increasing emphasis on Western knowledge of anatomy and physiology particularly in reference to exercise changing our understanding and experience of these practices.
In the words of the Zen proverb, are we in danger of mistaking the pointing finger (our physical practice) for the moon (the nature of our mind and the world around us, our energetic connection, clear sightedness). Certainly we should look after our body and maintain our health as best as our circumstances allow, without that we won’t have the guiding finger encouraging us to look more deeply. Beyond that our physical practice is there to point towards a wider truth and it’s our task to see for ourselves what it’s pointing at. As we re-orientate ourselves, we come to understand that technical excellence or symptom relief are not end points but by-products of the practice and then other important discoveries are made.
How do we look more deeply?
This happens when our intention changes from development of our physical body towards development of our mind. Once we accept that our development is not outward but inward we start to experience our body in a different way as an essential part of this process. We find an energetic connection that links the leaning of our mind with our physical experience. As our mind moves, our body feels different. We practice not to dominate physically, but to listen so that our body becomes a map of our mind and we can move into each moment from a place of caring and compassionate presence that feels spacious, boundaryless. Gradually everything we experience shifts towards referencing the moon and not the finger.
When we re-focus on the moon in this way, surprising things happen. Outwardly our postures and movement become light, flowing, effortless, we move in ways that strength and effort alone cannot achieve. Inwardly, the colour and brightness that came from disappointment or excitement with the sense of failing or achieving makes way for a sense of transparency, a playful, open-hearted simplicity, that is peaceful and patient with each unfolding moment, however it is. It’s a process that feels far more enriching and wholesome and expansive than the passing attraction/aversion of colour and brightness and one our practice slowly teaches us to take into daily life.
It's from this place we observe the wholesome patterns and habits that support an emerging transparency, the unwholesome ones that take it away and, importantly, the choices that make the difference. As the practice becomes one of unveiling these more subtle inner exchanges, we begin to understand what the moon has to teach us and feel a deepening gratitude to the finger for pointing the way.