Beginner’s Mind Series 02

In the series Beginner’s mind Mariana Romagnani shares her experience of going through Dynamic Mindfulness Foundational Yoga Teacher Training during a pandemic.

Earth Module: Starting the path (Part 2)

Yoga is a cluster of practices and ideas that has its earliest traces dating back to around four thousand years ago, in a region now called India. It has a long history of transformations and patriarchal lineages.  What we mostly recognize as yoga today is related to a mixture of physical practices developed for young male bodies who would, in stage presentations, advertise Indian people as strong, in the effort of counteracting the prejudices that were spread during the British colonization. An amalgam of ancient knowledge, contaminations and innovations developed throughout the last century, when yoga started to become widely spread in Western culture. Yoga is now a big prism. However, yoga images nowadays most often depict thin young white women, preferably wearing cool leggings while performing an extremely stretched asana. Something which contributes to the advertisement of a desirable presupposed standard body.

It is always relevant to check how a very one-off  socio-cultural reality presents an image and what we have to do with it, if anything at all. In both cases described, a notion of mastering the body, most often carried out through a harsh male pedagogy, is embedded. An aesthetics of perfect control in which the body is taken as something we own and do something with it, pushing it to fit an ideal. All of that differs a lot from realizing the body we are, in different moments of life.

Dynamic Mindfulness takes this very seriously and looks for other ways of  engaging the body. Ways in which how one feels and is present is more relevant than how it looks. Moving away from the obsession with perfect lines towards  a much more accepting process of each body. Instead of teaching poses, it focuses on exploring situations – so we deal with a situation unfolding into different stages, rather than with the task of linking different postures; with ways of working from the inner layers of the body to engage in its subtle organization, instead of going with the idea of working the outer layer in order to purify inwards;  it looks for refining movement by thinking how it holistically happens in the body, rather than moving part by part in order to make detailed adjustments; and by exploring spirals, waves, pulsations and bouncing, it directs our attention towards the whole process, more than with a goal to be achieved.

Where we stand

Photography has played an enormous role in the spread of yoga asana practice in the west. But the body doesn’t fit a thin paper, it is 3D. The flat very much geometrized image of the body which sets it into the coordination of perfect lines, exact angles and full symmetry while performing yoga postures is nothing like what we experience in life. For  nothing in the body is geometric and there is nothing in nature like a perfect line or full symmetry.

A personal example: I have one leg slightly longer than the other. This cannot  be fixed by exercising, but I can, for sure, find ways  of being more harmonious in the way my body holistically engages in movement and organizes itself. Actually, it is already harmonious. Because that’s the way my body grew to be, developed itself and is. For sure we do not  want to reinforce a body organization that leads to injuries and imbalance. But still, letting  ourselves become obsessed with symmetry and with the task of fixing ourselves all the time, as if adjusting pieces and gears, might prevent us from contemplating the suchness of what already is and to respect our singularities.

An alarm call rings when we realize how oppressive notions of perfection and purity can be internalized and normalized  as what is right and desirable, even if we know nothing is perfect nor pure. Somehow, sometimes we get  easily trapped into the desire of fitting or aligning ourselves to something, without actually inquiring about it . Rarely, messages about the body in society teach us to honour where we are at the present moment with our lives and our bodies. There is always something that must be fixed, adjusted to how it should be. But we cannot  meet ourselves where we should be.

From the ground up

In a world where we mostly feel we must fight for what we want, need and think of what  is right and fair, it comes with no surprise that terms like embrace, release and acceptance are often so full of prejudices. Endurance is for sure a very much needed skill when all sorts of forces seem to come and we feel we might end up slipping and succumbing to what brings us down. Nonetheless, sometimes we are not aware of what we are practicing endurance for. And this ability, as important as it is, can become resistance within a blink. A force that places all the energies on counteracting what demands for change. In a different way, acceptance also calls for our efforts. But instead of acting against it, the idea is to feed from whatever comes, from what is at the present moment, to assimilate, digest and remember that everything can unfold and transform into something else. 

We were all suddenly caught up in the ongoing process of a pandemic when the course started. A moment that maybe more than ever constantly reminded us of the impermanence of all things and asked us to stay strong, healthy and resilient. The widespread yoga image of a perfectly aligned, strong and stretched person, has been sold full of promises of a better life. But still, none of these qualities necessarily mean equal health, mental stability or strong character at all. Unfortunately, some of us only learn this when injured, sick or old. Ups and downs are part of life. It is part of our survival instinct that we do not  want to suffer and that we look for strategies to avoid it. Nonetheless, at times, wanting to prevent ourselves from going down only brings more suffering. Life brings all sorts of possibilities for us to navigate in the full scope of emotions and feelings, and as it happens with every situation, they shall pass.  At certain moments, there is not much left for us than to come to terms with all the things that are out of our control. And to find a way to embrace and let go, instead of avoiding it. So we get time to set our energies up again.

Within a yoga perspective and approach conscious of the contemporary contexts we live in, that most of all involves encountering ourselves, checking our inner landscapes and breath, exercising presence and awareness, and contemplating the suchness of what is, we find an openhearted strategy. With it, grounding begins where we are.