I first wrote this while sitting in a coffee shop next to Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. Boudha is quite possibly my most favorite place to arrive to anywhere in the world. I always feel so welcomed – that I have arrived in exactly the right place. This place is special like that. It’s a destination enveloped in devotional practice steeped with compassion. Magical, uplifting, inspiring energy exists here. My practice automatically jumps up a notch or two….
Guruji Sri K Pattabhi Jois described vinyasa as a breath and movement system. “Vi” means purposeful and “nyasa” means to place, so vinyasa is often described as directed movement of the body in tandem with controlled breathing. My teacher David Garrigues encourages us to find the end-point — the destination — however briefly, in each asana (yoga posture) in order that we may experience it and cultivate greater concentration leading to the potential for reaching a meditative state.
Concentration (dharana) is the 6th limb of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga system and meditation (dhyana) is the 7th. Dhyana can be described as the immovable spot (think Buddha under the Bodhi tree). The seat that we establish, within any posture, that lends itself to stillness. Stillness cultivates awareness, awareness cultivates concentration, and concentration cultivates meditation. Just be. Let go of the past, don’t concern yourself with the future, settle into the present moment again and again.
Of course, it helps if you understand and can identify what the end-point is for you — know your destination. It doesn’t have to be the picture-perfect version, it’s your version, that day, that moment. That’s the destination. This process focuses your mind and clarifies your postures. If we don’t overthink it, we just might end up in the immovable spot.
While teaching us the vinyasa and the gestures that lead to a bodily energetic and psychic asana destination, David said “Stopping your body in each position is partly achieved by seeing your movements into positions as complete ‘gestures’. To gesture is to move meaningfully, this means that coming into a position has an intentional strategy or plan behind it. You consciously start from point A and go to point B in a single, confident, uninterrupted move. Without consciousness of the endpoint of the vinyasa position, it is common to blur the lines of your positions both mentally and physically, and thus your movement will lack the skillful quality of gesturing.”
Although yoga and Buddhism are often seen as distinct systems of dharma practice, there are many commonly held aspects and the destination is shared – as David described it “a clear blessed state of equilibrium repose and absorption.” The process of letting go to get to that state is unique to each of us.
In reflecting on David’s guidance on vinyasa and the destination, I found the following passage from Bhikku Bodhi’s book on the 8-fold path inspiring.
“But the flame of inquiry, once lit, continues to burn, and if we do not let ourselves be swept away by superficial readjustments or slouch back into a patched-up version of our natural optimism, eventually the original glimmering of insight will again flare up, again confront us with our essential plight. It is precisely at that point, with all escape routes blocked, that we are ready to seek a way to bring our disquietude to an end. No longer can we continue to drift complacently through life, driven blindly by our hunger for sense pleasures and by the pressure of prevailing social norms. A deeper reality beckons us; we have heard the call of a more stable, more authentic happiness, and until we arrive at our destination we cannot rest content.” Further, “To arrive at the desired place one has to have some idea of its general direction and of the roads leading to it.”
My wish for all is that there is some place, it may be your mat, it may be your home, it may be a far-off land, where you feel welcomed. Where you feel you have arrived — ready to settle into and explore your destination — possibly even within yourSelf.
*I’d like to express my gratitude to my teacher, David Garrigues (www.davidgarrigues.com), for his review and comments in support of this writing. Thank you Davidji.