In India they tell a story about how they train elephants to stay in one place. The story goes like this. When the elephant is young they tether it to a stake with a thick rope. A rope thick enough to hold the full force of the young elephant as it tries to break free. As the elephant gets older, and gets accustomed to the rope, they replace the thick rope with a thinner one. They can do this because the elephant no longer uses all its force to try to move away from the stake. The conditioning is beginning to get a hold on the elephant’s behavior. This process is repeated until the elephant is tethered with just a thin piece of string. A subtle reminder that keeps the full-grown elephant in place.
Now I have no idea whether this story is true or not. However the metaphor is clear: the most powerful patterns driving our experience are driven by “things” we cannot see. And this is where the traditional story ends. However if you follow the news in India you know there is more. Because every once in a while a full grown elephant loses it, breaks free and runs amok through the local villages causing havoc. The elephant’s options appear to be limited to two: submitting to conditioning or running wild.
Yoga offers us an option the elephant does not have. Because when we work and play with the tools of yoga we bring our own thin pieces of string into the light where we can take a good look. And although yoga will do this for each of us in it’s own sweet way there are two parts to this that we all share. The first part is what I’ll call the pressure cooker effect: when we roll out our mats to practice we box in our experience by turning our attention inside. And then we turn up the heat - very literally when we practice a flow form of yoga (or in a heated room!) and metaphorically in all forms through the challenge of the practice. And just like when we heat stuff in a pressure cooker things rise to the surface. So when we practice we create an environment where our thin pieces of string may come into the light.
Which brings me on to the second part we all share: when we practice yoga we grow our ability to pay focused attention. We do this by focusing on our practice - and specifically on creating a physical practice that is both safe and functional for us. Or in other words we don’t go fishing for our thin pieces of string. These may come up - in the form of thoughts and emotions - and when they do we let them be as they are. We apply our ability to pay attention to observe without reacting. And by doing so we loosen from their grip, we open a doorway to change, an opportunity to move into the new.
To download (or watch online for subscribers) a video that explores this in a lot more detail please go to: http://www.ekhartyoga.com/video/patterns-going-deeper.
This video is part of a series that will be available on www.EkhartYoga.com.