This is somewhat about yoga but more about the concept of dhāraṇā, which, according to the Wiki gods, “may be translated as ‘holding’, ‘holding steady’, "concentration’ or ‘single focus.’” You may know it as six up on Patanjali’s list of the eight ‘limbs’.
So I’m just arrived home from teaching a yoga class. There were 18 students, and a very diverse crowd from around the world (more on that soon in another post) – even two white guys. In terms of effect, the work is up and down like everything, but this class was a real upper. Elsewhere in these pages Linda Karlsson has eloquently described the ways yoga can take us on a journey over, under, sideways, down and then back up again. I don’t know why but today I was really into it, and it pulled me up.
It’s been a rather dark time for me, for some obvious reasons (some described elsewhere in these pages), and some not so easily apparent. I felt my head was kind of lost in a dark cloud before teaching today but once I started I just felt the groove. Words came easily, I felt invigorated by the energy in the room. Sometimes I wish I could just spend the hour and a quarter with each one of the students, I sometimes feel a crazy sort of protectiveness and love for each of them, the new and the regulars both, but that’s not what a class this size is about, one can only do what one can and then let it go. I was excited by some new sequences I’d devised over the last few days for this class, and that helped. It just seemed to flow easily and without angst, and occasionally there was interaction and humor, which I always love.
Afterward I decided to treat myself to a bagel – a mini-bagel, okay? – and coffee, and went to the bagel shop. Laura, who’d been in my class, was in line a few places in front of me awaiting her order. She seemed happy to see me there, said it was a great class (okay I’ll take it ‒ or rather my ego will!), then said that she had only five minutes left on her meter and she was so stressed to get back to her car. She added that before the class she was anxious, and then the class relaxed her and now she was anxious again! I put on my yoga teacher voice and told her, “Relax the muscles of your face, relax your tongue, soften the jaw…” She laughed.
Coming home I was just thankful that I have something to do with my time that not only is beneficial for my students but that gets me out of my self and sometimes into that state of dhāraṇā, or at least an approximation. I don’t always love yoga, sometimes, often enough, I get weary of talking and discussing it for damned sure, but sometimes it enables me to get into that zone of concentration, and so I’m grateful. When I’m there evaluating downward facing dogs or asking someone to move their toes forward from the heel, it’s not about me and my backstory, it’s about the living being in front of me. I know there’s a wisdom and liberation in that. Sometimes I can even know it in the midst of natural human darkness, as I suffer the suffering all beings encounter.
Lately I’ve been thinking of bringing more dance into my yoga, more grace, using movement more freely with my students. After all, as James Brown says, or anyway I thought he said, “The one thing that can solve most of our troubles is dancing.” I couldn’t verify this quote but in the search for it I found another one that applies as well: “When I'm on stage, I'm trying to do one thing: bring people joy. Just like church does. People don't go to church to find trouble, they go there to lose it.” Losing our troubles, that’s what concentration is about, that’s what dhāraṇā can help us do.
Sometimes I can’t access it at all, and always it’s fleeting. I told Laura I’m the exact same as what she described, we’re all human. Being a teacher of a relaxation modality does not necessarily mean you’re always relaxed, of course. I know I can be anxious, and then when I’m fully concentrated all that anxiety is magically dispelled, often when I’m teaching, and then I’m back to myself and my own personal, so very important woes. Perhaps the mighty and the holy can stay in that liberated zone all the time, I don’t know. I hope so. I guess it’s a matter of making incremental progress, like getting into a difficult asana ‒ it’s a gradual thing. For me, I know I fall into dhāraṇā and I fall out of it, but I’m happy that I’m given situations where I have the freedom and the time to experiment with that dance, and sometimes I get there, where there really is not an ‘I’. Sometimes the ‘I’ seems only to be there in retrospect, too, it’s funny. And then I hope the same goes for you, that you often find your joy and attention in any given situation ‒ yoga, dance, teaching, loving, working ‒ whatever you’re into… and that you can dwell there longer and longer; Namasté.