Moving in Transition
By Subhadra Fleming, June, 2008
“The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble”
– Blaise Pascal
As the sun burns brighter in the sky, as it warms our days more thoroughly, we’re called to move – to walk, to garden, to ride bikes, to get out in the water – to be outside and mobile. I read that Martha Graham used to quote her father, a psychologist, as saying, “movement never lies.” This suggests that there is purity and authenticity in movement, an opportunity to simply be, without the layers of fabrication or pretense the mind can cook up. We move most in an asana practice when we practice Surya Namaskar, the Sun Salutation. As the cosmos calls us to movement, it’s a great time to consider Surya Namaskar, that centerpiece of the asana practice. Dona Holleman calls Surya Namaskar a Mala, the circle of beads strung together on one string, that is used in meditation. She teaches that Surya Namaskar is a classical way to connect the various asanas into one continuous, flowing event.
If we accept that movement doesn’t lie, then moving in transition from one asana to the next, maintaining the continuous flow that Dona Holleman talks about, is perhaps where we can be most authentic, most pure. One of the keys to allowing this continuous flow is a patient surrender to a steady breath. So whether we practice a rigorous Ashtanga Surya Namaskar B, moving quickly in and out of Virabhadrasana I with the breath, or a slow, gentle dance-like Surya Namaskar in the Integral Yoga style, using an easy breath throughout the sequence, the breath is an essential element.
Dropping into the breath in transition, we can get away from the mental limitations that creep in when we’re actually in an asana. For instance, in urdhva mukha svanasana, upward facing dog, I can feel dissatisfied that the throat is tight or that the low back is jammed up. Or in adho mukha svanasana, downward facing dog, I can get caught up in striving for the goal of getting the heels closer to the mat, or the shoulder blades onto the back. But in the transition between these two poses, those mental constructs, like judgment and striving, that take me away from pure movement can sometimes disappear. For a brief moment, if I distance myself from concern for past or future and the traps the mind falls prey to there, I feel the body simply flowing through space and time. At the same time, the transition serves its own important role, allowing us to perform the asanas without interruption, continuing the flow of energy from one pose to the next.
Of course transition can be uncomfortable. At first it can feel unsettling to move through space and time without anchoring the thoughts on the poses that come before and after the transitional movement. Human nature yearns for the security of being someplace, of getting our bearings. But I find that giving myself completely to the transitions transforms my practice. It allows the body and mind to become absorbed in the flow of movement. I realize that, like all of nature, I can move in complete harmony with the essential energy of the universe, the divine vibration. That realization transforms the asanas that follow, so that they too become more dynamic. Soon the entire practice flows with continuous, harmonious movement.
The lessons we take from cultivating mindful transitions in Surya Namaskar blossom when we take them off the mat. In life, transitions are most unsettling when we don’t know what the future is going to feel like, or look like. It feels as though it cuts against the grain to give up our striving, and let life come to us. It can also be a great challenge to give ourselves over to transition when we long to hold onto the events and people that inhabit our past. Transition feels insecure, like now as we leave the winter behind and move toward our summer schedules. But it is that very insecurity that allows us to grow. If we surrender to not knowing, we experience the benefits of transition, just like when we allow the energy to flow through the transitions in Surya Namaskar. Transitions are like the vast darkness between the stars. Maybe not as flashy as the main events of our lives but, like the transitions in Surya Namaskar, filled with the divine vibration that gives meaning to our lives.