The devil is in the details
So for that past few years I’ve been practicing ashtanga. Flow, flow, breath, breath. There is a cycle and rhythm to the practice. You move. You keep going. You jump around. You breath some more.
But here I am visiting my old Yoga Works crew. And they study Iyengar.
See, in the yoga world, there are three main lineages: Ashtanga, Iyengar, and the yoga of Desikachar. Most our our Western yoga springs from the same teacher (the granddaddy of yoga as we know it, Krishnmacharya). But where ashtanga focuses on movement and breath, the Iyengar tradition focuses on alignment.
Ruthlessly. Meticulously. SLOWLY.
So now I’m not jumping around. I’m laying on the mat and contemplating the slight external rotation of my thigh in the hip socket as I reach my other leg into the air in supta hasta padangustasana. And then I’m holding it there. For a long time. I’m meditating on the percentage of weight in the ball of my foot during my forward bend. I’m finding that extra degree of external rotation in my upper arms in downward facing dog.
It’s slow, it’s sweaty, it’s focused, it’s hot.
The exquisite attention to detail is like a life-sized magnification glass. We’re using the acute sensation of one part of the body to develop focused concentration (or dharana) that helps settle the monkey mind down. Similar to ashtanga, it’s not really about the body (though it sure can feel that way!), but about the mind. The bodily sensations become a lens for the practice and a means of cultivating mindfulness in our lives. After all, if we can focus and breathe in the discomfort of utkatasana (fierce or chair pose), we may have a little more space to be present in oh, say, an argument with our ex about who left the fridge open. And the capacity to focus on the details in our practice makes us more sensitive the the miraculous detail of everyday life.
We tend to think of joy as something that involves big events: weddings, success, births. And while this is true, the sustaining marrow of life is found in the smallest of everyday occurrences. It’s finding the extraordinary in the ordinary. The shape of a flower, the smile of a friend. The play of light on a skyscraper at sunset. These are the small joys that sustain us when the greater flow is not revealed.
The devil is in the details. And through those tiny portals lies the magnificent expanse of the divine.