I enjoy watching people. My new favorite place to do this is the grocery store, especially the lines at the front. Despite the forced intimacy of strangers crowded together into lines, it’s so common in most of our lives as to be boring. We mostly don’t talk to our fellow customers, but only to the checkout person. That makes the interaction at the front of the line the focus of attention, and I’m fascinated by how an irritated customer there can put the customers behind them in an irritable mood. In the same way, a joyful interaction can put the people in line into a joyful mood. Consciousness is contagious!
As a yoga teacher, I also notice how people carry their bodies, their posture and the way they move. Most of us adults move very little, and only with a specific purpose: to put our groceries on the belt, to get our wallet out or to pick up a magazine. Young children on the other hand are in constant motion; almost like they are dancing. What they feel inside is expressed outwardly.
The life force energy goes by different names: prana, chi, and shakti to name a few. Whatever you call it, in a tree it expresses as reaching up for sunlight and air while rooting down into the earth for nutrients and water. In humans, this life force energy often expresses as sound and movement. Young children express their shakti in a spontaneous and uninhibited way, while adults have been socialized to inhibit their expressions. If you have any doubt about this, try dancing in the grocery store line and see what kind of looks you get.
We adults find a physical expression of our shakti mostly through specific purposeful activities: playing tennis, skiing, our exercise routine, asana practice. When we do this, we are conditioning ourselves to flow within certain boundaries. For example, in asana practice, we learn the correct positioning of the body. This correct positioning of the body is not the end goal. We condition ourselves into correct alignment not so we can focus on alignment, but so we can forget about it. When we let go in this way, we can find the beauty and pleasure of having a body and expanding it’s boundaries.
While I was in a teacher training with Shiva Rae, I learned a new word: Sahaja, which is the spontaneous intuitive expression of our shakti. Most of us do this a little bit when we stretch – not the stretches of asana, but those freeform movements that you might see BEFORE asana class starts, or maybe just when you get up in the morning.
I say I learned a new word instead of saying I learned a new way to practice because Sahaja is inborn and innate to all of us. We don’t have to learn to move with Sahaja, we instead have to unlearn our conditioning. It’s is the wordless pre-verbal wisdom of the body that we all have; it just get’s covered by the socialization process. Children move with Sahaja until they get conditioned not to. Shiva Rae gave us adults permission to step outside our conditioning and move freely again.
When we train for a specific sport, we develop our ability to move within well defined boundaries. It can take a lot of practice before we have the correct form in, for example, the swing of a tennis racket. But the correct form is not the end goal; in order for us to reach our peak capability, we need to move with Sahaja. Athletes call this being in the zone. We turn control over to our cellular wisdom; it’s no longer the mind in control. We can’t control from our conscious mind – that’s not Sahaja – and it’s just too slow. The conscious mind is good for conditioning or training us to move within certain boundaries, but once we are trained, the next step is to turn control over from the conscious mind to the innate wisdom of the body.
In order to be great at any activity, we must become adept at Sahaja. The pianist who is technically proficient and plays with great feeling has learned to trust their cellular wisdom. What’s true in music is also true in sports, in yoga, in making love, and just about everything else.
All of us can practice stepping into our cellular wisdom; being the best in the world is not required. Remember, Sahaja is innate, and we have learned to inhibit this primal aspect of ourselves. To step into Sahaja we have to let go of conscious control and trust our primitive pre-verbal self. When I do this, I find it refreshing, energizing and grounding at the same time. Accessing our cellular wisdom is healing, and most of us do not have enough of this expression in our lives.
The practice of asana illustrates how we progress. Beginners are looking for external guidance; their attention is primarily outside of themselves. Intermediate practitioners are mindful; their attention is more internal with the conscious mind directing the practice. Advanced practitioners are also mindful, but the mind is more in the role of watching; it may step in from time to time, but the control of the practice has been turned over to the body. Please notice that hard postures are not required.
When I teach yoga, I always allow for some Sahaja time. I create a boundary within which I allow the students to move. The practice is one of relinquishing control to the body. We learn to trust our bodies, and it feels good. It connects us with the primitive, the earth and our wordless wisdom.
There are many ways to access Sahaja in our lives. It lives within us always, and just needs to be uncovered. You can access Sahaja while walking the dog, sitting in your car at a red light, or while singing a song. The practice of Kirtan is a Sahaja practice; more heart-full then mindful.
Having boundaries around our physical expression is a wonderful way to refine our ability within that boundary – that’s what training is all about after all. However the area’s of physical expression that are outside of the boundary never get explored. That’s why one of my favorite way to access Sahaja is through freestyle dance, where most of these boundaries are removed. The body is allowed to move freely, expressing outwardly what is felt inwardly. This can be extremely challenging for us adults who have spent years building up the boundaries, but that’s exactly why freestyle dance is so valuable, healing, and fun! Moving with Sahaja is inherently beautiful to watch too.
Whatever your daily life is like, I encourage you to find some Sahaja time. The body never lies, and it’s not confused by the arguments of the mind. It’s the universal religion, connecting us back to our roots and back to ourselves. It can help us feel at home in the body, which is the doorway to peace.