If you look around the Yoga room at rows of strong, almost majestic Warrior 2 postures, it would be easy to think that Yoga is all about strength and holding our bodies firmly in position. But look again. Under the grand gesture of this posture, you'll see softness too, and maybe some tiny movements as we work towards a subtle letting go of shoulder tension, relaxing the muscles of the face and jaw, perhaps a softening of the front hip to allow a deeper posture to emerge.
The inner warrior, not the outer form, is what Yoga is concerned with. By using the breath as a vehicle to take us deeper inside, our concerns with the physical shape start to melt away. Eventually our perception of the outer form of the posture dissolves until we truly become one with the asana. We embody ‘shunyata’ (emptiness). Empty of the idea of how separate or individual we are and a realization that we are all connected; “empty of a separate self but full of everything in the cosmos” (Thich Nhat Hanh). In such moments we become awake to the wonders of life.
It is difficult. To find this place we must let go of our preconceptions and the way we habitually perceive our existence. We must get curious and start to enquire into the true nature of things, going beyond the layers of knowing to which we have subscribed for so long. So in class recently we've been drawing some inspiration and help from this line in the Buddhist text the Heart Sutra:
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi swaha
Gone, gone, real gone, beyond even the most gone. Ultimate wisdom remains when everything has dropped away.
It encourages us to consider the nature of emptiness, not in the negative sense of lacking all meaning, but the idea of going beyond the surface to look into the very essence of things, the interconnected vastness of existence, beyond the small self which is the part of life we usually fixate on.
It suggests that letting go and allowing things to be fully gone (parasamgate) can take us beyond our limited perceptions of ourselves, perhaps towards enlightenment (bodhi) and certainly towards a greater sense of freedom. And if all this sounds difficult, the final word in the chant, Swaha, reminds us to be joyful and celebrate ourselves. The small changes we choose to make along the way and the efforts we offer in our practice are worth celebrating.
By Alessandro Gozzi
Alessandro teaches Jivamukti Vinyasa yoga on Tuesdays at 18.45; Lotus Flow Vinyasa (advanced) on Thursdays at 19.15; Vinyasa Yoga on Fridays at 07.00; Hot Power Yoga on Fridays at 10.00; and a 2 hour Vinyasa class on Sundays at 09.30.