Back in the Sixties, infamous LSD guru Timothy Leary coined the phrase, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out”, his point being that, at least in his opinion and to the extent that I understood it, one should take some LSD (Turn On), which would open up an entirely new way of experiencing the world (Tune In), and after this illuminating revision of one’s perception and perspective, leave behind the crass, materialistic, rat race existence that to many characterized the conformist Fifties mentality (Drop Out) and be free to taste life in its unfiltered (or less filtered), unrestricted beauty and mystery.
While all this was and is quite interesting to me, being a child of the Sixties, my intention here is not to write about Timothy Leary, LSD, or that turbulent, transformative decade. Instead, in the spirit of yoga, I’d like to stand Dr. Leary’s adage on its head and suggest that we “Drop In, Tune In, Turn On”.
As I have often mentioned, lamented, and celebrated in these pages, yoga is everywhere these days. The streets in most urban areas are peppered with folks with yoga mats slung over their shoulders; characters on TV shows regularly announce that they are on their way from or are headed to yoga class; ads have people (almost always lithe, attractive, and female, advertising being what it is) posed cross-legged or in some exotic position, apparently enjoying the ecstatic spiritual experience of sitting in a Jeep Cherokee or eating Greek yogurt (which, alas, doesn’t seem to be saving the Greek economy).
“Drop In.” In terms of “dropping in” to yoga, there are few obstacles. Availability, affordability (bargain basement offers abound), social acceptance, social media, mainstream media – the entire culture seems to being swinging the doors open wide and inviting everyone to “drop in” to a yoga class or download or video. (Of course, “dropping in” need not refer only to yoga, but being a yoga teacher, that’s where I’m coming from.)
So let’s say you drop in on a yoga class or a social media site, and start putting a little yoga in your life. Once you’ve done that, you’ve begun to drop in to a new world. Different clothes, people, information, activities, sensations. As with everything, some folks just skim the surface like a pelican at feeding time, catch what they can, digest what they’re able to, and move on to new waters. Others begin to absorb the practices and teachings into their lives to varying degrees. They begin to “Tune In”.
“Tune In.” In a way, tuning in is what yoga is all about. “Tune In” means different things at different stages along the way. In the beginning of your “yoga life”, tuning in can revolve around finding a style of yoga that suits you, finding a teacher or studio that resonates with you, a community that feels comfortable.
Once you’ve begun to attend class and/or start practice (They’re not the same thing.), you start to tune in to your body. Even if you’re not doing much in the way of postures (asanas) and are focused mostly on sitting meditation, you are still going to become aware of your body in a deeper, more intimate way.
Tuning in at this point has a lot to do with attention and what you do with it. At the start of a new session, one of the things I say to my Level I beginning students on their first day of class is that I’m not that interested in whether they can touch their toes or bend over backwards. As a yoga teacher, not an exercise teacher, I’m more concerned with what they do with their attention, the quality of presence they bring to the class. I tell them that while doing the postures will help them become more flexible, stronger, and have more stamina, from a yogic point of view, they are using their bodies to tune in, to be present.
In Iyengar Yoga we work on physical alignment and precise, subtle adjustments in the poses. Adjusting the body in this way, tunes your attention to be more refined, more discriminating and greatly increases your sensitivity to what is going on with your body. As you learn to pay attention to the subtle clues your body is always sending, you can nip problems in the bud and emphasize positive developments.
Attention is energy. When we pay attention to our body, to the people around us, to our environment, we give energy to those things; and if it’s positive energy, we nourish them. Which child does better: the one on whom is lavished lots of loving attention or the one is ignored?
In yoga, tuning in also means becoming aware of energy, prana as the yogis call it, and learning how to access and direct the boundless energy in and around us. Tuning in allows us to feel the ebb and flow of energy and do our best to adapt our life style to being healthier and having more energy at our disposal. This is alignment of a different order.
As we tune in to our body and the movement of energy, we begin to perceive and experience the two way street that connects body and mind. The work to focus on the asanas requires a sharper focus of the mind, which affects the nature of the mind itself. The asanas and breath also affect the mind, and by tuning in, we can perceive these effects. We become conscious of the mind’s unstable nature and the power that comes when we learn to channel and concentrate the mind.
Tuning in to our bodies changes how we feel and move. Tuning in to the ocean of energy in which we live changes how we perceive. Tuning in to the movements of the mind changes how we think. Tuning in through our practice, our studies, our teachers changes how we experience ourselves and our lives. In a very real sense, we’ve become more finely tuned beings.
“Turn On.” We sometimes speak of something or someone being a turn on, that is, enchanting, enjoyable, absorbing, amazing, delightful, delicious. The yogic process of tuning in to deeper and more subtle levels of who we are is a major turn on, a real rush, if you will. As you practice and tune in, you gradually and eventually turn on to the miracle of your body, the power of your mind, the interconnectedness of all things, the ephemeral nature of all things, the incredible beauty of all things, the astonishing dance that is Being. You begin to turn on to the clear light of your inner Self. Without a doubt, yoga is definitely a turn on.
So while I get Timothy into a headstand, I’ll say, “Drop In. Tune In. Turn On.”
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