11/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Art of Attention: How Has Yoga Influenced You?

"What's great is this diversity of positions, since as long as there is contradiction and negation there is also confirmation of a reality." -Lygia Clark to Helio Oiticica, in Participation

It took a long while (15 years and counting), as well as committed study of several traditions to understand that the diverse teachers who've most influenced me to date all point toward the same truth: Our attention is all we have; how we offer it is exactly how we will invite our own inherent freedom and ease. Here I will attempt to encapsulate each vision in the hope that it will lead to inspiring exploration. Please participate by adding your story below.

JOHN FRIEND, Anusara Yoga, points out that we are already in the current of Grace, in that Universal zone where we all intersect; we use our yoga practice to align more attentively and consistently with that Divine current. All are welcomed, your experiences are all affirmed and relevant, every experience has the potential to light the path to your heart. Meticulous alignment methodology, often used therapeutically, helps heal and strengthen the physical body and grants us access to the inherent goodness of our hearts [as well as the hearts of everyone around us]. As one of my fellow Anusara Certified teachers Darren Rhodes offered recently, "If it grants access, it's alignment." That access is key to any Anusara class. Find a teacher who helps you locate that access, thereby helping you to enhance your own life.

DR. DOUGLAS BROOKS, Rajanaka Yoga, shows me through study and discussion of ancient [yet thoroughly relevant] texts, stories, mantra, yantra and meditation that the world will always greet me in exactly the way I choose to greet the world. We are the arbiters of our lives; only our attitudes and vantage points will shape our consequences. Furthermore, there is no need to be on a mountaintop or secluded in a cave, there is only the act -and art- of choosing where to place our attention among options presented in any circumstance in order to optimize our experience of the beauty, freedom and ease in any realm of our lives. The Divine is always present, we learn to take care of our own hearts so we can know that presence - and interact with it - in our most regular, familiar enterprises.

HUGO CORY, teacher of Self Mastery, suggests an aim: to be in this world but not of this world. At first, we practice seeing, and separating from, our negativity, habits, precious opinions- in the most everyday, usual circumstances. Using 5 minutes of sitting and breathing each day, we learn to notice when there is anger, fear, sadness, joy - not saying "I am angry;" instead seeing that "there is anger," and it will pass. No longer must we follow a fleeting sensation with our entire body, to the detriment of our health, our work, or our relationships. And there is no need to negate these experiences; only a clear choice to entertain certain states- or not. We are thereby released from grudges, complaining, and negativity of all sorts that deteriorates our wellness. This caring observation leads to the eventual understanding of the ease and confidence that are already possible. We learn in a concretized, factual way to let go of behaviors that don't serve, and aim to attentively live in our hearts as consistently and elegantly as we can.

I was brought to see GURUMAYI CHIDVILASANANDA just before I met John Friend, and she holds a sacred place in my heart and soul. In her presence I began to comprehend the elusive "Great Energy" and watched it light up simultaneously every one of practices, my eyes, and the deepest recesses of my heart. Still I can only sustain that energy when my attention is supportively within. She came first, showing me in her movements and her expression the elegance possible. Gurumayi embodies and communicates refinement, grace and fortitude. "For the experience of the Great Energy, the Great Self, you must turn your gaze inward. That which you are looking for is beckoning to you from within."

Perhaps of interest or use, my first teachers of yoga, circa 1993-1998, from most recent to most distant: Cyndi Lee, who showed me the levity and spaciousness possible in every aspect of yoga and life, Rodney Yee, whose inimitable teaching style and knowledge of the body was deeply important early on in my training, Erich Schiffman, whose easeful attitude was instrumental, Bryan Kest, who showed me how to teach to a large group and still unabashedly speak with my very own voice, Jean Koerner, whose grace and unconditional acceptance still vibrates in my heart, some 16 years later.

More recently I studied and sat with Mark Whitwell who articulated that there is nothing to change. He asks only that we see clearly the essential, nurturing force of our current reality; and noted that all hardship actually nourishes us by showing us what needs to be revealed, clarified, or released. Through concise, regular yoga practice we remind ourselves of the beneficence always in process within us. For Mark, the postures are done to create intimacy with our own breathing, to cultivate closeness with ourselves and trust in our own potentialities; to merge with the abundance in our most familiar interactions and relationships.

Each of these teachers are pointing in one direction: be attentive - to your heart. Your yoga, whatever your chosen practice, is concurrently your desire, your discipline, your aim and your means.

We desire ease in our hearts, yoga brings that, if only for the brief time on your mat. Yoga is also the very discipline that brings us to that ease, simply getting on the mat and taking one breath. If our aim is to bring that ease to all of our exchanges: yoga is both that aim and the means to bring it (eg. when someone you love is exhausted/frustrated/just plain "had it" - will you react harshly? Perhaps we can all begin to use the understandings of our practice to attentively create such ease in at least one of the hearts involved- our own).

When we practice with any regularity, even short, 10-minute practices, we are able to be more attentive to the passing emotional states, acknowledging more consistently both the traffic and the fluidity of our inner composure. We've all felt this: when we're attentive, our interior environment resonates as easeful exterior experiences. We set the example for those around us. Start offering your attention to yourself as you practice and you'll be offering it in the most unlikely scenarios in a definitively healing direction. In the words of dear friend and colleague Sianna Sherman, "Watch the whole world light up from your own inner connection."

No matter what style, yoga makes it possible to spend less energy wishing things were different, and more energy appreciating and optimizing what is already present.

What does your yoga do for you?

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