Those damned mind fluctuations

Practice the other morning was a struggle. I felt like someone had secretly strapped lead weights to every part of my body but had done it so cunningly that I couldn’t see them. As my mind started to realise about half way through my sun salutations that my body had no intention of limbering up for the rest of my practice, it started to make noise. Serious noise… The well known maxim says “you are what you eat”… The lesser known one, but just as true, is “you are what you think” and boy did that happen.

I’m starting to realise, albeit after several years of a five or six day a week practice, that having a regular practice allows you to see the daily fluctuations of the body and mind, usually, speaking personally at least, with largely no logic or pattern to the fluctuations. Lack of sleep can make me feel heavy and sluggish at times (much like my practice that morning), at other times I feel more alert, quieter in my mind and much more open, flexible and able to coordinate my muscles to work together rather than feeling like a sheepdog trying to herd cats who all have intentions of their own.

There is a yoga sutra that says ‘yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’. Hmmmm… Not quite sure how I feel about that as my mind is usually ‘fluctuating’ to some degree and I’m not quite ready to say that I’m only *really* practising yoga when I attain enlightenment. But I do concede to the point that said fluctuations do get in the god damn way. It’s days like that day when it felt as though more of my energy was being diverted to mind which was agonising at just how unbendy everything was, how things weren’t connecting, how heavy everything felt… Name a gripe and it probably passed through my mind at some point. And the more I thought those things, the more they turned into reality. Another parallel process in the therapeutic world where the more a person thinks they are “X” (eg. useless), the more likely it will turn into a self fulfilling prophecy…

Freud coined the term ‘psychic energy’ to denote the amount of energy we have for the inner workings of the psyche, that it is a finite amount that depletes quicker when the mind is being used (in things like being on an intensive training course for instance and feeling utterly exhausted afterwards). Neuroscientists apply this to the metabolism in neurons in brain tissue. The same principle can equally be applied to yoga in the reverse – the more this energy is channeled away from the whining mind (which easily burns up any available energy if it can) and the mind is still and focused on the breath, the more refreshed, clear and energised (physically and mentally) we feel during practice and afterwards. Like a lot of the things I’m writing about, this is SO much easier said than done but is still an interesting thing to focus on during practice… intention goes a very long way.

The interesting thing comes with practice – the more adept you become at quietening the mind, the more this attention can be directed towards the physical body. Awareness then becomes increasingly more subtle and refined and it becomes possible to turn off the muscles that don’t need to work at all or not work so much and engage the ones that do. (A good example of this is setu bandhasana or bridge pose, a great prep for backbends and a pose that helps to stabilise the pelvic bowl. Most people really over use and tense the glutes to keep the pelvis lifted which only locks the back and is one of the things that leads to pinching in the lower back in backbends. Instead it is important to learn how to engage the inner thighs by rolling the thighs inwards which frees up the pelvis and aids mobility). We return again to the concept I talked about in a previous post on aiming to function like an efficient, smooth-running engine. The art of getting out of your own way…

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