Daily life in a big city can sometimes feel somewhere between a race, a juggling act and balancing on a high wire. The cacophony of sounds, smells, and visual stimulation can mean that the moment the mind kicks into gear, the body does its best to keep up, and this doesn’t allow for time to connect with the sensations in the body as we move through our daily life. As a result it can feel like the ground has been pulled out from under us – unstable, disconnected or just plain unaware of the relationship we have with our bodes throughout the day. As a result, the breath can become shallow, our posture held by tension, our physical actions on auto-pilot. Its no wonder that we live without a presence in the body, the mind holds so much tension there that it makes it an unpleasant place to be. But what does it mean, to not be present in the body?
When we find ourselves disassociated from the sensations in the body, unaware of the earth beneath us and the sounds, smells (and moving vehicles headers straight for us), we are not embodying the human experience.
What does it mean to be present and living in the body; to embody the human experience?
To be an expression of or give a tangible or visible form to (an idea, quality, or feeling).
Provide (a spirit) with a physical form.
Synonyms: incarnate – personify – incorporate
We are organic, sentient beings with a great capacity to express joy and a matrix of other emotions. These emotions are then organised and critiqued by our minds that, when not controlled, can trump the senses, spiralling us out of our bodies and into another dimension; one where we miss all the clues that the universe offers us in connecting into ourselves. Whether we feel our heart racing due to fear, or peaceful and grounded in body and mind, if we don’t know how we feel in our body, we are more likely to injure ourselves in mindless ways. What is more detrimental is the potential for build up of emotional blockages in the body that manifest as physical stress patterns, in some cases even leading to disease.
Asana is a wonderful time to check in with oneself, in mind and in body. Rather than letting the mind wander during surya namaskar or picking at old nail polish in paschimottanasana, instead focusing on the sensations in the body, it becomes possible to explore how the body and mind interact. How does standing on one leg feel, and what happens to your thoughts when you fall, or master the posture? Sitting with bent knees, with feet open and hugging the hips do you feel open and joyous, or frustrated and stiff? Does standing on your hands make your heart race, or do your legs feel like lead? Asana practice holds so many important clues about what is happening emotionally if we are open to listening in.
Asana practice is not intended to injure the body, yet so many people end up pushing themselves beyond their boundaries because they aren’t living in the body. Instead, their minds govern how far they will push themselves for achievement, and often this ends in physical injury. These injuries can take months, sometimes years to heal.
Shtira Sukham Asanam, from book ii number 46 of the yoga sutras suggests that we should be stable and grounded, at ease in our seat. Our seat is ultimately our body, our mind, our relationships with ourselves and all of animate life. In a city, we can learn to stay present by checking in with our selves in the midst of the sensory experiences all around. How we feel in our bodies and our minds enables us to live more consciously with all other animate life forms, to connect with our emotions while settling the mind. We can embody a seat of stability and ease- all we have to do is slow the mind and be present, to take the time to bring ourselves back into our body.