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Lions Roar : January 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN jANUAry 2011 29 for pursuing this awakening is to become intimate with the heart and blood and guts of our life. When I step on my yoga mat, I enter a sanctum of marrow and muscle, fluid and nerve. I swim my awareness into hidden chambers of joints, tender or- gans cradled in cages of bone, the surging channel at the core of the spine. I parse the language of the body in intricate detail: a rotation of the femur in its socket, a lifting of a delicate petal of skin, a drawing downward of one invisible energy to meet the uprising of another in a pearl-sized spot deep behind the whorl of the navel. I tune my senses to ever more subtle sensations: the way the pressure of the base of my ring finger into the floor rocks my humerus in its cartilaginous nest; the quiescence between an out-breath and an in; the pulsation of prana, the life force that envelops and courses through every living cell. Long-clenched tissues soften, releasing an ever-changing river of memory and emotion. Sometimes what I feel makes me shiver with ecstasy. Sometimes it makes me cry. By devoting my time and energy to this mapping of my hu- man body—in all of its vulnerability and impermanence—I’m making a statement to myself: This embodied existence matters. The arT of haTha yoga has its roots in tantra—not the popular sexual techniques that spice up modern hot-tub parties and Craigslist personals, but the multidimensional psychospiri- tual movement that swept through the Indian subcontinent in the second half of the first millennium, and that many scholars Yoga Rat phoToS©ISToCkphoTo.Com/qBanCzyk/dIxI A tail, a bundle of guts, and a smear of blood—how one dead rat continues to inspire Anne CushmAn’s practice. a feW monThS ago my cat killed and ate a large rat on my yoga mat. In case that sounds like the opening line from a par- ticularly morbid dr. Seuss story, let me back up and explain: I love to do yoga and meditate outside. So every morn- ing—weather permitting, which is much of the year here in northern California—I spread out my mat and zafu on my deck in a leafy temple of oak and bay and mad- rone. and I bow across the valley to mount Tamalpais, whose sen- suous silhouette suggests a woman lying on her side. as I flow and breathe, I open my senses to the world. dry leaves and sticky sap and tiny green gypsy-moth caterpillars fall on me. roosting doves pelt me with acorns and an occasional splatter of droppings. Jays shriek insults at squirrels; a neighbor’s jackhammer throbs; hummingbirds whir through the crimson blossoms of pineapple sage. The air smells of damp soil and rosemary. and, once, when I accidentally left my mat out overnight, my cat Tahini used it as a slaughterhouse. all that was left when I came to my practice the next morning was a tail, a bundle of heart and guts, and a smear of blood. I buried the rat’s remains in the nearby garden, next to the statue of prajnaparamita, the mother of all the buddhas. I also wiped clean the mat. (okay, so I know what you’re thinking: remember never to borrow her yoga gear.) But the image of the rat has stayed with me—a potent reminder of the koan that I face as a Buddhist hatha yogini. yoga, like Buddhism, is a discipline whose ultimate purpose is to awaken us to our vast, unbounded true nature—beyond our body, our personal story, and any finite definition we cling to about who we are. yet the primary method hatha yoga teaches