"Yoga is a system of practices and attitudes that ground us in our inherent wholeness."
At age 21-22 and reeling from my own unhealed childhood trauma, not to mention living under the oppressive regime of addiction, I could not have fully understood the power that yoga would eventually have in my life. But I eventually learned.
In those early days- my first class was sometime in 1994, when I was in my sophomore or junior year at VCU- I remember sensing something very potent but very foreign to me. I looked around- as newcomers often do- and saw a lot of people who seemed to know just what to do. I, on the other hand, did not. In fact, I left my first vinyasa class crying because I felt something very wrong inside me, very out of step with something everyone else seemed to know. That experience stuck with me. But I'm so grateful I went back.
A while later I sat in my Zen Buddhism class and we studied the concept of touching the earth. This would come up over a decade later in my study with Rolf Gates who frequently tells the "touch the earth" story as a message of awakening now, here, in the moment- the only moment we have. It's always the perfect time and place to awaken. (The above link sends you to a free podcast during which Rolf discusses this subject.)
For many of us drawn to study self-improvement (though I prefer the term self-acceptance), the body, life, the circumstances we find ourselves in have been something to be endured. Life is something to be tolerated rather than enjoyed and the journey of self-improvement or self-acceptance is despite all of that. This was the case for me. "Resting in the felt experience of the now" is not always easy or even possible when you're nine years old and drinks are getting hurled across the room and doors are getting slammed.
But I digress.
Self-acceptance for me has been a journey of subtraction- rather than add what I think I need to be right with the world I usually need to subtract anything that stands in the way of trusting that I'm already there. The practice of meditation has helped me find the frequency where that subtraction can happen. When I'm not practicing presence, I'm prone to seek all sorts of approval or fulfillment from something that I probably don't need- and by the way, probably already have, without the thing I'm seeking.
So this "practicing presence"- what does it look like?
1. Notice you're not present. This takes practice. In fact it all takes practice.
2. Notice what it felt like to be not present.
3. Get a sense of your feet on the ground/seat on the cushion/back on the chair. (Touch the earth.)
4. Listen externally for sounds, look around at the room and the place you're in, to just get a sense of what's here in the moment.
5. With eyes either open or closed, get a sense of your center. What feels like your center right now? It might be your belly, it might be your heart, or your forehead... connect to that center and feel for a moment what it's like to breathe into your center and breathe out of your center. Breath going in, breath going out. Breath going in, breath going out.
6. Wait a while until the "not present" feeling passes. Feel what you feel now. Feel the temperature of the air, the dryness or dampness of your palms, the texture of the clothing you're wearing, the feeling of your body breathing, a sense of heaviness or buoyancy. This is YOU in the present moment. Just you.
7. Repeat these practices often enough that you are able to do them with as little effort as possible (meaning, they come naturally, as you are talking to someone, or preparing a meal, or writing a speech). And practice them especially when things are good, when it's easy, so you have the skills to use when things are not so easy. I do it daily as part of my meditation practice.
Wholeness is a practice. It's not pushing away experiences or striving for them. It's being there, with the body and the breath, seeking only present moment awareness.
For me, most of the time, when I practice presence I find myself needing to do, be, or accomplish less in order to feel successful and fulfilled. The simpler answer comes. Usually it's characterized by kindness, non-violence, generosity, and honesty. That feels good- and it tends to grow. Most good things in my life, in fact, come from practicing presence. This feels something like wholeness. And it's already there, waiting for you.