We're skipping over something I wanted to write about energy and "crushing" (yes, in the elementary school sense, but without romantic object) because it became so heavy and complicated as I tried to process a very simple statement, that I can't put any of it down here yet.
On Dec 1, Kino wrote about the value of the six-day practice week and said this: "One other crucial shift must happen in order to facilitate the transition into full immersion in the yoga tradition. You must make the transition from a fitness oriented approach to yoga into a devotional one."
I know Nobel took this on, but I'd like to take it on differently. I don't read devotion as any kind of purifying practice besides that of transforming samskaric energies. For me, to read purification in the surface meaning of "don't take chemicals, caffeine, booze, et cetera" is really to not touch anything meaningful.
There is a teacher in town (student of mine, teacher of ashtanga also) who was cut loose from a job because she sponsored an event where booze would be served. She was told something like, "That's not how yoga people behave," and even Tim Miller (her teacher, to the degree that she has one) said, "Well what scriptures were they reading that said that?" to which she could only answer, "Well you know, THE SCRIPTURES" and I can imagine Tim's knowing nod in reply.
And that's how this is another "energy post." Purification not in annamaya terms, because that asks positively ENDLESS questions about should I eat this, drink that, how much of this, how many teaspoons of that, Ayurveda all simplified for Western culture which never works because that's not where it came from or was meant to be applied to, and then we all wind up doing "yoga for weight management." BORING.
**FROM a fitness-oriented approach TO a devotional one.**
I don't have a specific thing/deity/power to which I am devoted, but my practice, particularly since late November, has been moving away from "I can do this, can I do this?" (the sort of thinking that is achievement or anxiety-about-achievement oriented) and toward focused breathing, moving, stretching, feeling. An attempt to jump into a handstand pike or perfect a posture, or do one twice, doesn't modify this. That's one aspect of this change-over.
I did not discover "devotional practice" on purpose (that's also a theme in my last month or so posting here; I've become very anti-effort, again, see the "can't practice surrender" post, because that's where I most clearly hit this, at least I think so).
Too much ego pain, too much parenting, not enough time and space to use asana practice to nourish "myself," the self as ego, to take "time for me," as the commercial has it. So asana practice simply stopped being about me. It became brief, which at first was "I am so defeated by my stressy obligations," and then, particularly as I added closing sequence, no matter what practice had been (one day it was seven sun salutations), the asana practice became a way of focusing rather than answering-stress or achieving or even taking-time. Sure, those all sound the same, but they're not.
For a long time (since the early 1990s, at least), I have laid out flat on the floor when I need to chill. Many many living rooms have seen me do this, regardless of roommate traffic, pets, or other objects or people. It doesn't work if I use "my room" and make it a private thing; it had to be a PUBLIC focused "chilling" session. Roommates and partners got used to it. And it wasn't napping, it wasn't abjection, it wasn't meditation. It was sort of a public call of an end (however temporary, perhaps "a break" is a better term) to stressiness at that time.
And it let me recharge in somewhere between about eight and eighteen minutes. No breathing exercises, nothing fancy, just being on the floor and letting the monkey in my head run wherever he wanted. So in a way, it was a sort of instinctive reclining meditation, but I didn't understand it in those terms. And it was observative, but again, I didn't understand it like that either.
Devotional practice has become something like that. I do opening chant, and I really enjoy it. If I'm alone (i.e., at the studio and not at the Y) I do it loudly, so it bounces off the walls back to me. And something about the mindset makes postures easier, makes painful stretching (because I keep emotional pain in my fascia) easier also, even if I only do some sun salutations. There is a sustained mind "tone" (in the musical sense) that lingers between opening chant and closing chant.
And I used to have (still have, I suppose) an Intermediate-level practice, so some days (particularly when inspired by a Monday night practice) I'll do Intermediate up to Kapo or Supta Vajrasana, and then other days do partial or full Primary or just standing, or whatever. The "tone" of devotional practice is COMPLETELY EQUAL, and creates equanimity. The day this past week when I was fooling around with learning to tic (handstand dropover) was interesting in observational terms. I learned that that movement is, for me, essentially strength-based. I learned that that movement comes with pretty intense fear, which is oddly combined with intense concentration and stillness. So it's like "Hmm, here I am balancing on my hands, with my feet hanging over, and it feels like pretty far, and I'm terrified to let them drop, but I'm totally calm at the same time, hanging here. How interesting."
It's not that that is THE SAME, in physical/annamaya terms, as a sun salutation, because it isn't, and it's not energetically/pranamaya the same either, but the tone of practice, the "music" of practice, if you will, is EQUANIMITY.
Closing series is the series of equanimity, the great "smoothing out" as of bedcovers. Closing series is where I give up my hurrah and my aarrrrghhh and everything else, the great emotional quiet-seas, the breezeless open ocean.
Devotional practice may not reduce the ego in any way (about which I will say more in a later post), but it operates sort of parallel to the ego, on some different wavelength, isn't run by the ego, isn't operated and then carved up to specifically serve the ego's bipolarity where one either aggrandizes or fails.
And in this way, devotional practice is regular practice, because there's nothing to gain or lose. I still get sore (annamaya) but it's the energy management (pranamaya; and with it, hints of emotional management) that really happens. Annamaya contains, runs with, alongside, pranamaya, and it's more and more, now emotional energy that is cracked out of fascia, anger at my household situation, mourning about my father earlier this year, anxiety about the holiday travel with my family's chronic weird communication and suburbanity, other things. Practice is not ABOUT these things, but I am about these things, and I learn this in practice. I see my own noise better. I hear the jam band that is my emotional/physical/energetic state, over the bass note of practice's equanimity.