This week in class we have been delving into subtle realms.
Subtle aspects of mind, matter and spirit feature regularly in the teachings of the Yoga philosophy.
In the Yoga Sutras nirodha is a very refined state of peace in the subtle realm of the mind.
Vairaghya is a subtle attitude generated by the cultivation of qualities of non-striving ‘lack of thirst’ for outcomes.
Isvara Pranidana is a subtle practice of allowing Life and all its beauty to touch us- to awaken something deeper in our experience.
These are just 3 of a number of key concepts in Yoga which relate to something subtle- by subtle we mean that these ideas are perhaps etheric, elusive, a little bit beyond the things we can pin down or grasp in our day to day world.
The foundation of Yoga philosophy sits hand in hand with Samkhya philosophy which describes the way things are. According to Samkhya the world and everything in it evolves in a downward direction from highly subtle aspects toward the manifest world which takes on increasingly dense and gross forms. The ‘higher’ the concept the more challenging it is to speak about it.
In order for us to speak about subtle ideas we need to change our language. Things which have either no form or very fine form have to be described by their qualities and sometimes even by what they are not like just as much as what they are like!
The teachings of the Upanisads deal with the nature of the subtle realm often using highly poetic language and metaphor. This is the realm of discussions on the subjects of Life, the universe, and divinity. In studying these ideas and the use of language they employ it is clear to see why many consider Yoga as an Art, there is no possibility of strict scientific method in approaching subtle ideas.
Here in our day to day experience the subtle is all around us. According to Samkhya our minds are made of subtle substances- the speed at which the mind can move is much faster than dense matter. Our senses are part of the subtle realm and the world of denser matter- they provide us with an interface, a way of bridging the gap between subtle mind and dense matter. The same can be said of the breath.
One of the fundamental tools we have to explore the subtle realm from the perspective of our dense bodies is by developing a relationship with the breath.
The more we practice and experience the breath the more dynamic and interesting the breath can become – some days it may feel heavy and hard to work with some days, light and open to movement. Some days is may feel lazy and prefer to be small and weak and some days it may start to move with a boldness that makes us feel like we can move mountains!
This week we have been practicing the possibility of imbibing a certain quality of subtlety into each breath. We’ve not attempted to define what that subtlety is but to feel a quality that can be described as subtle, perhaps delicate.
I have been hopeful that by this means we can start to experience the subtler expressions within the Art of the practice. To move into a place of feeling and being by the method of doing subtle practices.
I have observed that when students really feel this working in the practice the way the body moves can be changed quite clearly. A certain elegance and grace becomes infused through the movements of the body. The feeling that accompanies this mastery of the body and breath is etched in the faces in front of me and this is really joyful to see.