Playing in space: a yogic way of being
Reinvigorate your yoga practice, and your life, by introducing an element of play. By Gregory Ormson
A noteworthy teacher in my community – the asana technician – is highly keyed into asana precision and delivers careful alignment cues. Her grasp of anatomy is readily incorporated into her asana coaching. And while she's serious, she's also playful; that's why I was not entirely surprised during a recent class when she said: "We're all just playing in space."
Her comment made me smile and had me think about playing in space. Playing doesn't eliminate our physical effort and the work of asana, but I think it can lighten the mental aspect and open a sense of joy in us that may be a timely renewal point.
In the book, Work, Play, and Worship in a Leisure-Oriented Society, American author Gordon Dhal issued a stern critique of US culture when he wrote: "We work at our play, worship our work, and play at our worship." He stated we are missing the point when it comes to all three.
If we are playing at play, working at work, and worshipping at worship, our being and doing are aligned. But if we are doing what Dahl suggested, our activities are dysfunctional and misaligned.
From the age of 16, and through college, I worked part-time at my father's grocery store, and since I had to spend a lot of time there, I never liked going into them as an adult and did almost everything to avoid it. We are required to work and earn our bread, and work is satisfying when it's something aligned with who and what we are, but back then I was just working, and it was not my intended career.
In time, I started thinking about my avoidance tendency and realised the problem wasn't grocery stores, but me. I set out to change my perception (an important aspect of yoga life according to Patanjali) and make it fun by putting a smile on my face and offering random comments to people. Occasionally, I stopped to juggle oranges or avocados. Now when I go to a grocery market, I tend to see it as play. Most of us have chosen to do yoga. It's not our work or our obligation. Obligations become something we feel like we must do, rather than something we want to do. When yoga becomes just work or obligation – like my grocery store experience – it's time for renewal.
Recently, I was focused on the idea of playing in space during yoga and the class seemed to flow with ease. I had a pure sense of enjoyment; if oranges were nearby, I think I would have started juggling. After savasana, I sat up and looked out the window to a bland parking lot when a deep sense of peace – almost like a mystical experience – suddenly came over me. Playing in space doesn't mean we can't move deeply into the mystical; in fact playing in space may open the door to encountering the deep self and/or divinity. Dr Yogananth Andiappan, an esteemed scholar and teacher at the Andiappan yoga colleges in India and Hong Kong, quoted only one paragraph from the foreword he wrote for my recent book Yoga Song: "In the play of yoga, we invest all we are from the inside here and now. The yoga we embody then becomes a defining storyline in our role."
I think he liked the phrase, 'in the play of yoga,' and since he highlighted it, this suggested to me that something important was there.
I invite you, in the next few paragraphs, to an active imagination that may lead to reframing a storyline in your life and a renewal of your yoga.
Keeping your eyes open, vividly recall your last class. Where were you, what did you wear, who were you near, and what sounds and smells did you notice? Remember who taught the class, what they were like, and where they were in the yoga space.
Think back to a moment in class when you felt a little tired or distracted. Were you going through the class on autopilot, even bored – in other words, where it became work? Recall your breathing during your session. Put yourself in your physical body in that space. Imagine taking a good look at yourself from 10 feet in front of yourself. Pause for a moment here for your active imagination.
Now, having seen yourself through active imagination, close your eyes and go through the exercise again – but this time, see yourself with a smile on your face. Reframe the yoga class as if you're 'playing in space'. Do this and then come back to read on.
Could you see yourself smiling, a yogi playing at play, one in alignment with the moment? You may not have heard it before, but you can permit yourself to smile in yoga... yes truly smile! To smile, or take a moment to juggle, starts in a simple way to renew old attitudes. Connecting to play can keep yoga fun and enjoyable.
Our yoga is congruent when we are intentional in attitude and intent, and our integrity shines when we align the noun and verb of our existence: we are workers – working; we are players – playing; we are worshippers – worshipping. I believe all three of these aspects are present in yoga.
If your yoga is becoming like work, shift your practice to play. You can work, play or worship at yoga whenever you want, but be intentional by aligning your action and attitude.
A deeper knowledge of what we are may be more important for long-lasting change than knowing how we are. Knowing what we are can take us to an imaginative and playful mindset. What am I? I am a body at play in space, I am a worker at work, and I am a worshipper worshipping. This is the blueprint for alignment, a lesson on how to live with consistency in being and doing.
Perhaps it's true, that a way of 'en – light – enment' begins with the yogi playing, rather than a yogi working at playing. One of my former professors used to say that we (students) ought to get something from class outside of the professor's notes. He believed that learning also happens in the mystery of communication and encounter when the doors of perception are open to a layer of divine comedy.
I'm not promoting the idea that if we simply think happy thoughts, we'll be happy. But I believe that when we act out of mind, body, and spirit intention to renew our yoga we may want to try setting our intention to play in space.
So, the next time you go to the store, and someone is juggling in the produce aisle, don't worry, perhaps they're simply just jump-starting their perception. But if you listen closely, maybe you'll also hear a soft-voice humming of the external 'Om'.