I would like to welcome everyone who has subscribed to this letter, old friends and new. Thank you for the trust you have shown in me and my writing. This letter is for you and I would like to ensure it interests and even fascinates you. If it doesn't it would be helpful if you could drop me a comment on the letter letting me know what would appeal to you. Comments are welcome as this is intended to end up as a conversation. If just reading works for you—great, keep going. I am grateful that you are here, reading my words, after all that is the point of writing...
If you read last weeks's letter about Urmila's labyrinth, you might like to know that she told me today that I gave her a whole new perspective on the labyrinth, one she had not expected. Praise indeed...
I don't want to get too technical with regards to yoga but today I want to look at the asana called Yoga Mudra.
“Yoga Mudra represents the symbol of Yoga. It recreates the human form in its role of being a part of the Divine. It brings about humility in the presence of achievement; grace and modesty within greatness. It is the emblem of great understanding and wisdom which knows the frailty of human nature and also its boundless potential.”
Yoga Institute, Mumbai, India
To practice Yoga Mudra you sit in whatever pose works for you. At its ultimate that can be Padmasana, the Lotus Pose, with your feet on opposite thighs, or at its simplest sitting in Sukhasana, the Easy Pose, a simple cross-legged seated position. You place your arms behind you and hold your left wrist with your right hand. Then bow forward as far as you can, and hold that position for a short while, maintaining your breathing. Then you raise your body, release your hands and sit quietly. There are variations that can take the pose deeper, but that is it at its simplest, and that is sufficient to practice the pose.
Why is this important, you may ask? At one level it is the simplest most overlooked asana in yoga and yet it is one of the most powerful. It is also, potentially, the most difficult. But putting aside any ability to do it, what speaks to me is its power. For me it contains the essence of yoga. Indeed it is so important to me that I practice it at the end of every practice and every meditation.
On one level it seals and completes the practice, on a whole different level it places you in the context of where you are in time and place. It grounds you in the present.
To wind back a bit... I was talking to Urmila over breakfast and she was telling me that she had listened to a lesson on the Course of Miracles where she had learned that the present was far more than the point where the past and future collide. She had discovered that it was more than a brief moment in time, followed by another and another...
I told her how I saw the present in a completely different way. To me the present is the entirety of my experience. It is where I am now, which is where I have always been. In fact all I have ever experienced is the present. My whole life has been lived in the present, it is now and it always will be. The past is just a map in my mind, it doesn't relate to actuality, and the future is an even vaguer map, that might be. The present, though takes in the whole breadth of my experience. It's where I live.
Urmila was fascinated by this, as she had always seen it as a sliver of time that quickly passes, followed by another sliver, and so on.
When I practice yoga or meditation it is always in the present. It is always delving into what I feel and what my body is experiencing now. This experience is constantly changing and I have to adjust to that as I practice. Life around me is always changing and my body is constantly renewing itself at the same time as it is degrading through age. But it is where I am now.
Practicing Yoga Mudra most days grounds me in where I am now. I sit, cross-legged, as far as I am able to today and I bow forward. My forehead reaches where it is able to today. I have no target or aim and I don't ever try to achieve anything specific. I just do it. In doing it I show reverence to my body and to my practice. I repeat an action I do day after day, an action I always do in the present moment. It is me on my own in my world and in my humility.
“Be humble for you are made of the earth, be noble for you are made of the sky.”
Humility is one of the qualities I see embodied in yoga, it is essential to any practice. In Yoga Mudra that act of bowing down is an act of humility and respect to yourself, your practice, your body and your soul. If you include some higher power in there that is wonderful, but not necessary.
Doing Yoga Mudra after every practice is a commitment to yourself and your practice, a commitment to the consistency you need to practice yoga.
Whether it is Yoga Mudra or not, do something simple every day that shows a reverence to your body and yourself and that clearly grounds you in the present moment, for that is all there is.