Over the years, I’ve explored and greatly benefitted from a variety of body-cultivation traditions—the majority of which have their roots in India or China.
The first was Iyengar yoga, which I was drawn to for its therapeutic applications. I was in my early 20’s and still recovering from a serious ankle injury, which had been creating all kinds of problems, also, in my hips and lower back.
To manage the pain, I had been receiving regular chiropractic adjustments. Once I began attending a weekly Iyengar yoga class, the need for these chiropractic adjustments almost immediately disappeared. The precision of the Iyengar approach to hatha yoga accomplished everything that the chiropractic sessions did—and much more.
While eventually I became interested in the deeper, more internal aspects of a yoga practice, for many years Iyengar yoga was primarily a form of physical therapy—something I did to help my body heal from a physical injury and manage/resolve the pain associated with this process.
After fifteen years or so of Iyengar yoga practice, I found myself shifting gears in a rather dramatic way, from the slow precision of an Iyengar practice to the flowing intensity of ashtanga-vinyasa.
If the elemental association of the Iyengar system is Earth—with its clearly-defined building-blocks—then the ashtanga-vinyasa tradition is Fire—ujjayi pranayama igniting an inner heat which, in combination with the linked sequences of poses, had the power to quickly incinerate physical and mental-emotional blockages.
Now, each body cultivation system has benefits as well as potential danger/drawbacks … and let’s just say that I felt grateful to have come to ashtanga-vinyasa with the alignment knowledge of a long engagement with the Iyengar tradition. I was also amazed, again and again, by the things that a human body could do—which heretofore I would have considered utterly impossible.
The Kaiut Method
Continuing with our elemental analogy: If Iyengar yoga is Earth, and ashtanga-vinyasa is Fire, then the Kaiut method—with its nourishing attention to joint health and cool calming effect on the nervous system—might well be Water.
After fifteen years exploring the Iyengar system, and another fifteen or so engaged with ashtanga-vinyasa, the transition to the Kaiut method—with its deeply restorative focus—felt quite natural, and a welcome change. While much of ashtanga-vinyasa (with its elegant leaping and floating) seemed a valiant attempt at defying gravity, the Kaiut method was more about surrendering to this ubiquitous force: allowing gravity to become our friend, and work for us.
Now, near the end of the Iyengar period I happened also to be studying Chinese medicine. And as part of this study was introduced to some qigong forms. Among them, the one that I return to often—for its radical simplicity and power—is standing meditation.
So support a particular standing form, it’s useful to imagine a series of balloons, that are supporting the body at various places. For instance: a large balloon that we are sitting on, a balloon that we’re holding between our arms, balloons gently supporting our armpits and elbows, etc. For this reason, the element that I associate with standing meditation is Air—the air contained by all of these balloons.
For some clear instruction on standing meditation, I recommend Lam Kam Chuen’s book, The Way of Energy, which features some nice illustrations along with step-by-step guidance. He also has posted on Youtube a series of ten instructional videos—the first three of which provide all you need to begin.
Body Cultivation & Nondual Inquiry
What has been interesting to notice is how my relationship with these body cultivation practices has transformed, since becoming interested in nondual spiritual inquiry.
While I still value these practices, for a variety of reasons, I no longer relate to them as so-called progressive paths to spiritual awakening. In other words, I no longer rely upon them to somehow produce the lasting peace, joy and freedom that I now understand to always and already exist within the core of my Being.
Instead, I employ body cultivation systems to support physical health; and to encourage an alignment of body and mind with the nondual understanding. I find that yoga and qigong practice—in particular, the more quiet and deeply restorative practices such standing meditation or viparita karani—can support the body and mind in becoming more fully transparent to the Pure Awareness which is their essential nature.