At the beginning of yoga class, we often hear teachers say “Come into the present.” From the testimony of spiritual leaders through the centuries, we know living in the present is important and yet overlooked counsel.
What is the point of coming into the present? What does that really mean? How does a yogi come into the present moment? Does one come into the moment through breath, does it happen by a pose, what is the present?
As a yoga teacher, it’s easy to get caught up in delivering short hand instruction for a deeply honored and elusive state of being. When a phrase is repeated over and over, without taking the time to truly explain or ground, that phrase can become a cliche. Cliche’s become meaningless in time.
It’s impossible to suddenly become present because every yogi comes into the moment with busy minds. Without focus, our minds are ablaze and ideas in our heads jump around like monkeys leaping from tree to tree. One person said it’s like a fan whirling at high speed. Even when it’s turned off, it takes a while for the blades to stop spinning.
So when a yoga practitioner comes to a class and hears someone say “come into the present,” it’s asking a lot because stilling a busy mind happens in decades, not minutes. The move to presence sounds easy: the yogi is told to release all cares of the day – which is an act of trust and surrender – but on both the conscious and unconscious level people resist letting down and surrendering. The survival and often unconscious portion of our brain is always vigilant and it tells us to stay on guard. On a conscious level in the personality, we realize that if we do not have cares or responsibilities to live for, we become obsolete.
When Change Happens
Life’s trivialities and their agitations are good for us because they provide the curriculum for change. They offer every yogi a second chance to let it go and sink deeper into the moment. We cannot possibly make big changes until we first make the small ones. The chance to make micro-changes is offered to us each time we show up on the mat and it begins with the beginning as we move in. When we come home to self, it’s easier to accept everything that is without filters or escapism because we drop into the edge of mystery and brush up against that which is truly important . . . the self.
When the yogi is able to first leave behind all that which has happened in the previous hours of the day, and accept the moment fully, the yogic state of surrender and acceptance can begin. In this “state” the yogi is one not only with the moment but with themselves in their essence now. This is sat, or truth. In its full expression, it is the yogi in the presence of their own truth force. Unraveling this change of perception is one of yoga’s great gifts and it perceptual awareness is the foundation in much of the Yoga Sutra.
Yoga puts us in a receptive state. Yoga prepares us through breath and movement to surrender. It is the breath that centers us in the self writes Yogi Ramacharaka in Science of Breath, a book published in 1905 and now out of print. It does so not based on some mystical quality, but by the rhythm of deliberate and focused breathing. This is profoundly important for both the theory of teaching and for daily yoga life and practice.
Let It Be
We may show up for class and wish for a different teacher, or may want to change the music or temperature in the room. Perhaps we don’t want to be next to someone in the class. We may want to breathe deeper and slower than what the instructor is suggesting, or move slower or faster. These things are little lessons in relinquishment of control over that which has nothing to do with our true self. Here’s a mantra you may want to try: LET IT BE. Tune into the rhythm of your breath. Let it lead you to the state of release and return to breath and self.
It is not a small thing to let it be, to work toward presence, and to release. And there, when your yoga becomes you, you may turn into shades of ease. The bearable lightness of allowing you to be just you.
Ramacharaka, Y. (1905). Science of Breath: A Complete Manual of the Oriental Breathing Philosophy of Physical, Mental, Psychic and Spiritual Development. Yoga Publications Society.