In last month’s post, we explored how our yoga practice can help us to find a still point within the constant, ever-present motion of the Universe. This interplay between movement and stillness is inherent in one of the styles of yoga I teach: Vinyasa Flow.
Like many Sanskrit words, vinyasa can be defined in a variety of ways: “movement between positions,” “placement of limbs,” and “to place in a special way” are a few. In modern times, the term has come to mean a style of yoga in which the body flows from pose to pose in harmony with the breath.
Even in a Vinyasa practice, which is defined by its fluid nature, there are moments of movement and moments of stillness. There are parts of the sequence when my body is moving through space. Then comes the time when I put my foot here, I put my arm there, I “place my body in a special way”. And then I stay. I become still. I’ve flowed into stillness.
In the moments when I choose to be completely still in a pose and pare away all voluntary movement, I gradually become aware of the subtle, involuntary movement that’s always there. Within this “stillness,” I can feel my breath rippling through my body. I can feel my heart beating, the throb of the pulse at my throat and wrists, the blood coursing through my veins.
If I become very still, and very quiet, I begin to feel currents of energy within my body, almost like rivers of light that enliven my insides and radiate outwardly and inwardly.
That flow of energy within is what yogis practicing thousands of years ago identified as prana: the vital life force or life energy. This life force is acknowledged in most ancient cultures – the Chinese call it chi (as in tai chi), the Japanese ki (as in reiki), and the Native Americans refer to it as the Great Spirit.
Connecting with and feeling this vital energy is one of the reasons yoga developed as a practice. The ancient yogis believed that the same prana that animated their bodies animated everything in existence – animals, trees, rivers, flowers, mountains, stars, everything and anything imaginable. They developed the techniques of yoga to illuminate this interconnection between themselves and the energy of the Universe.
All these thousands of years later, we continue to practice these techniques. Although yoga has evolved and changed immensely over the millennia, it still has this same basic principle at its core – oneness, union, the merging of the small self with the big Self of the Universe.
It can be difficult to feel this oneness, or feel this prana, or feel the deeper parts of ourselves when we’re constantly moving from place to place, task to task, day to day, caught up in the busyness of everyday life. Motion and activity is necessary and important to get things done, to be effective and efficient, and to move forward in life; but stillness and quiet is just as valuable and vital.
The beauty of a Vinyasa practice is that by its very nature, it reveals that there’s a time to move, and a time to be still; a time for action, and a time for observation; a time to roam from place to place, and a time to park and take in the view.
If you practice Vinyasa yoga, you have the opportunity to experience these periods of stillness. It can also be helpful (and very enjoyable) to carve out some time during your day to practice being absolutely still. You could do this in a comfortable seated position, with the spine tall and erect. You could lie on the floor in Savasana or your favorite restorative pose. You could even do this in bed at night before you drift off to sleep, or in the morning before you fully awaken.
Since you’re taking the time, you might as well make it feel really good! Maybe put on your favorite piece of relaxing music, light a few candles, place an eye pillow over your eyes, or rub a drop of essential oil between your palms and inhale the scent.
But most importantly - become very still, without holding yourself still or becoming rigid. Relax into stillness, and allow the aliveness of your inner landscape to reveal itself to you.
Christine Malossi is a yoga teacher and writer based in Manhattan.