Are We Experiencing or Posing?

One moment, Mary Oliver's poem about a white moth glimmering in May can deposit us into another head and heart space and her experience seems to become ours. The next, we labor to communicate a real-life episode of our own that was steeped in extreme beauty or torment. We clutch at and grasp for words, knowing their power.

Then we concede their limits.

English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) described language as a necessity for understanding what is happening, but advised that it can also be "absolutely fatal." He warned that it was no substitute for experience, describing people as "icebergs floating in a sea of immediate experience but projecting into the air of language."

When we see a rose, we immediately say, rose.
We do not say, I see a roundish mass of delicately shaded reds and pinks.
We immediately pass from the actual experience to the concept.

Those of us cheeky enough to assume we can share yoga with anyone else come face to face with this syndrome. It happens whenever we guide a sequence or meditation, or, heaven save us, get a question about "correct alignment" in a pose.

The longer that we're in Earth School, the more we comprehend how much we don't yet know how to explain — and the folly, sometimes, of trying. Sharing yoga isn't excepted.

I used to think I knew what correct yoga posture alignment was — or at least I believed it was knowable. The truth is that no one other than the person experiencing a shape or movement can best sense what is correct, skillful, and appropriate in any given moment. (Leslie Kaminoff: "Asanas don't have alignment, people have alignment.") We can point to some sensible guard rails that promise safety. But if we don't value individual experience, and fail to encourage sensing and feeling at least as much as we caution about torquing knees or tearing rotator cuffs? We've missed the point.

No one arrives at a yoga practice as a blank slate or as a carbon copy of an anatomy book illustration. We come with preferences, history, traumas, longings, and moods. Where do we fit into this practice today? How do we make it relevant to actual life and the cockeyed times we're in?

Whatever yoga lineage or tradition we might have committed to yesterday, we're free to ask whether it nourishes us today. Is it an inquiry about making life come true or are we stuck forever making shapes based on someone else's script? The longer I practice and share yoga, the more it's evident that if it isn't opening us from the inside out, we miss the treasure. Yoga is life unfolding, live.

Without an ongoing commitment to what's true in our experience each moment, we can be like rockets programmed with a faulty trajectory, skipping off the atmosphere on the way home.