Fall is an oft-heralded season of transition and change. During asana classes we are often encouraged to be aware of transitions between poses – being just as conscious and focused in those moments as we are in the poses themselves. All this month I encouraged my classes to really focus on the use of their hands and feet during these moments. We took advantage of the homunculus (the image in The Key Poses of Yoga is much cuter) nature of the hands and feet as very “bright” and lit up areas in the body & brain which we have conscious control over.
Recently I attended a talk at the Village Zendo in SoHo. As Zen Buddhist practitioners, they do not include asana in their teachings at the center. However, I was struck by a very skillful and mindful transition every student practiced with devotion. Before they left their sitting area – which consisted of one large-ish flat square cushion, with a second small rounded sitting cushion on top – each student bent down and used their hands to sweep off any hair, debris, or dust that might have accumulated on the square cushion and then plumped and recentered the circular one on top. This was done very deliberately, with a great deal of care and focus, as if they were preparing the way for a teacher or guru to next sit. It was a study in mindfulness, respect, compassion, and an awareness of the transition of shared practice space.
In yoga studios we often aren’t afforded such a clear and specific opportunity to perform this kind of transition. Yoga asana practitioners tend to own their own mats, and, depending on the class, may not use any of the studio props. Yet being aware of the transition of our practice space, not from one pose to another, but from one student to another, can be a powerful yogic teaching in perspective, mindfulness, and focus. In doing so we might find new strength in our ability to transition skillfully, with awareness and compassion, between not only poses, but between our on-the-mat practice and our off-the-mat one.