Just over a year ago in Mysore I finally met Angela, well rather she met me, she roared up Gokulam High street on her Scooter as I sat on the steps outside Amruth sipping my post practice Chai. She braked to a stop, took off her helmet and introduced herself, then invited me to Idli breakfast the next morning. We had chatted over the years on the Ashtangi’s message boards, via Facebook, now finally we met in person.
Anyone who has read Angela’s Inside Owl blog will know she’s a deep thinker, the conversation over breakfast pinged around from injuries, she had a pretty big one, practice, Mysore, psychology, meditation. It was my last week in Mysore and as I left she said “practice strong”. She’s one of those inspiring people whose words seem to all be carefully chosen.
A while after I got home Angela sent out an email about a Dharana (6th of the 8 limbs, concentration), course she was running for her students. At the time I had just come out of Hospital and wasn’t allowed to practice. Dharana or “Sitting” as it’s known is about stilling the mind, watching the breath, recognising other thoughts that arise and letting them go.
Angela initially said the practice should happen after the closing postures, but before Savasana. To do it until it felt natural to stop.The aim being to gradually increase the time, her students eventually sat for over an hour, but we started with 5 minutes, which seemed like an eternity. I would set the timer on my phone and was sure I hadn’t pressed “go”.
The key is to sit comfortably, not necessary in full Padmasana, half Lotus or perhaps just crossed legs, to be warm, a shawl or blanket around the shoulders, know you won’t be interrupted. Recognise the days when it just isn’t happening, because some days the mind just won’t shut the **** up.
After a while you realise you are not uncomfortable, the time you sit increases, from the initial 5 minute torture 5 minutes is no longer enough, you dispense with the timer or in my case you change it to stopwatch mode to see how long you sit for, no longer waiting for the bell to rescue you.
Nearly a year later I tend to “sit” on days when I’ve done my full practice, I average between 10-15 minutes before a light switch goes on in my head and I’m conscious again of my surroundings. It feels natural to stop, take Savasana.
Dharana can be done on it’s own, obviously, but I can’t make it work without having practised first. It’s also made me want quiet, silence even, away from the mat, I try to avoid the blah blah. Sitting no longer needs to be forced, it’s natural.
As Angela encouraged me to give it a go, I’m amazed how much Ive come to enjoy it, I asked her if sitting makes you anti social, am I turning in to a hermit, I’ve never been a party, crowds person, but lately finding that quiet mental space has become more important. I said to her it’s some kind of progress perhaps that I’ve noticed the change.
” I do think it’s natural for us to progress to habits of being that are non-agitated, simple and peaceful. And we can’t force this… it comes when it comes.
But there is also the thing of living in the world and being very skillful at that. My inspirations on this are the Gita and also the “Living in the World” chapter of TKV Desikachar’s book The Heart of Yoga. A basic teaching I return to often. ”
I better visit Amazon and buy the book.