Through the art of listening, we learn to attune to the sensations and perceptions that arise in the body and mind. In the postures – the asanas – this listening involves observing the pulsation of blood and nerve as the flow of blood and the impulses of the nervous system travel through the body. The ancient yogis described these pulsations as passing through the body’s inner channels, or nadis. The art of listening involves tracking sensations and noticing the changes that occur within. When there is too much preoccupation with simply doing the pose, practice becomes too easily routine and done automatically. The speed of the practice also impacts the ability to listen and to attune. The faster the experience, the harder it becomes to internally track what is happening. By moving slowly and developing internal awareness the practitioner can build greater somatic intelligence and heightened presence.
Listening and building presence is the central approach to the practice of Prajna Yoga. Prajna means “discriminating wisdom,” and this wisdom involves both somatic awareness and mindfulness. I emphasize that students attune to the flow of their connective tissues and the pulsation of their nerves. In meditation, I guide students to listen to what arises in their mind and heart. I believe a complete Yoga practice must include an investigation into the mind (and an inquiry into one’s judgments, hopes, fears, agendas, and attitudes). And in my personal practice, I devote equal time to mind training and physical training. Ultimately these are not different practices – asana and meditation. This art of listening is done both within the poses and in the practice of seated meditation.
I find the most powerful sadhana is a combination the techniques of Hatha Yoga and the insights from the teaching of Vipassana and Zen practice from the Buddhist tradition. Within the teachings of the Buddha dharma, one of the most potent is that there is no attainment. In our life off the mat and within our experiences on the mat there is no goal – there is ultimately nothing “to get.” This is one of the most difficult lessons for the yogi, particularly due to the fact that in our society today, we are so goal-oriented.
This reminds me of a story told in the Zen tradition: There was once a novice seeker who asked the Zen master, “What is the meaning of Buddhism?” and the master responded, “The meaning is in the moment that arises.” First we must reflect, is there really any finite meaning to a moment, any moment? No. “Meaning” is always in the eye of the beholder. It is critical in the training to loosen our hold on fixed meaning, and to be open, radically open to multiple meanings. In Yoga, it is key to observe, feel and engage with any moment that may arise, without having to lock in to any one meaning. On the contrary, events and circumstances do have meaning to us in our lives. It is not that there is absolutely no meaning. The challenge is to stay in the flow of presence and to have the patience, the tolerance, the concentration and endurance to stay open to whatever is happening. This is Yoga.
Meditative awareness implies “being with it,” that is, being with whatever arises and to observe and investigate what arises within the mind and heart. We can build meditative awareness through the postures – whether balancing in ardha chandrasana (half-moon pose) or twisting in marichyasana. By observing sensation in the body, we develop our capacity to perceive. By sensing and perceiving we are hopefully more mindful and less impulsive in our actions and behavior. Pulsation is the root of all movement, all behavior. By listening to pulsation (in Sanskrit, pulsation is spanda) – fluid pulsation, cellular pulsation, nerve pulsation – we go to the source of all movement, all behavior.
When one studies anatomy: the shape of the bone, the nature of the a joint or the orientation of the muscle fibers within a muscle, then one can better sense and feel how the body moves. In my own study of living anatomy, I am particularly drawn to the subtle awareness required to observe movement in the cranial bones and throughout the skull in order to support the sixth limb of Ashtanga Yoga, pratyahara, the softening of sensory awareness. By softening this awareness, we attune ourselves to inner perceptions. We learn to listen through directed self-inquiry through the body and mind.
Tias Little brings to his teaching a wonderful play of metaphor and imagination. He is trained in Iyengar and Ashtanga vinyasa yoga and his perspective clearly reflects the Buddha’s teachings. He specializes in Yoga and anatomy, blending Western and Eastern perspectives. Tias earned a Masters degree in Eastern Philosophy from St. John’s College and currently directs Prajna Yoga in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife Surya.