The Self cannot be pierced by weapons or burned by fire; water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it. The Self cannot be pierced or burned, made wet or dry. It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundations of eternity.
Bhagavad Gita Verses 2.23-25
Can you imagine what it would be like to be able to access this state of absolute independence?
Yoga practice draws us from outside in, from the periphery toward the center. It does this by directing our sense awareness, which usually moves outward to interact with the world around us, inside. As we sharpen a kinaesthetic sense of ourselves, we also become more sensitive to our breathing, energy, and the movements of our minds.
Diving into the inner terrain is also where we can experience an awareness of ourselves that is different from what the senses capture, somehow different from the thinking mind, a sense of who we are apart from our personal identity. It is a peaceful, calm and steady center that lies just beneath the surface of ordinary awareness and remains unaffected from the concerns of our day. This is a space of freedom that is our center, the core of our being. The hub of the turning wheel.
The True Core
When yoga and movement instructors refer to working "your core" they're usually referring to the stabilizing muscles of the torso and pelvis. While I understand and appreciate this use of the term, it doesn't felt quite right to me. The core of something is its most fundamental, central and foundational part, that which holds the greatest significance and importance. I guess I'm not at ease with the idea of my "core" being a set of muscles, no matter how significant and important they are. I consider this sense of an unchanging center to be the deepest and truest core. It’s an experience that is perhaps more subtle than the physical core, yet in my experience, even more powerful.
Over my years of practice, I’ve gotten to know this steady center within myself. It is truly one of my most valued allies in life. I’ve identified what it feels like to be connected to it, and to not be. And when I’m far away from it I’ve learned what brings me back.
It’s the most stable, fixed, and 100% reliable part of myself that doesn’t change regardless of what is going on outside. It helps me to remain steady amidst the ups and downs of both my inner and outer life. I rely on it in times of transition. It gives me a “place” to go to become centered and grounded when fear, anxiety and overwhelm arise. It provides me with the wherewithal to remain steadfast in the face of challenges.
This is the resource I want every yoga student to discover too. Actually, I believe you already know it well. It shows up in many difference ways in practice. It’s the deep-seated feeling of wellbeing and safety that you can release into and trust. It’s the stability you feel when you sense your midline. It’s your experience of inner calm and peace of mind. It’s the quiet sense of contentment that’s revealed when your mind settles. It’s the energy you feel in your spinal column. It’s the release of the breath in your belly.
As I’ve learned to connect my center more and more, I find that the calm, grounded energy of this state naturally infuses itself into the way I operate in the world through conversations, meetings, projects, and all kinds of personal interactions. Being connected to your center is incredibly helpful and empowered place from which to act and speak.
Approaching the Center
On the physical level, in asana practice, we can gain a sense of this center in different ways:
- Finding our center of gravity in any pose.
- Grounding and balancing the foundation of our posture.
- Becoming aware of and working with the midline, the vertical axis of the body that bisects front, back, left and right. In tadasana we can sense and align it. And in every other pose, we can have the sense of where this midline is, and bring our attention there as a way of exploring this midline and centering ourselves.
- Practicing balancing poses. One of the easiest ways to experience our center is actually to do poses that take us away from it.
One of the traditional techniques to enter the mystical and sacred core of our being is to focus on the pauses between the breaths or even between thoughts. In this space between our sense of separateness can dissolve into an experience of sublime oneness.
The breath has 4 parts - there’s the inhalation and the exhalation, of course, but there’s also the space between the two. Each of these spaces, the top of the inhalation, and the bottom of the exhalation, hold great significance and power in yoga. They are considered gateways to the experience of the center. Think of swinging on a swing, there are the forward and backward movements of the swing and the tiny pauses where the direction turns around. What happens in that miniscule space of suspension is significant.
The top of the inhalation is the point of fullness, wholeness, and completeness. It is the rising, receiving of and opening to consciousness. It’s the zenith where we hold the full potency of the in-breath, where the energy of the breath dances within us fully.
The end of the exhalation is the final resting place of the breath cycle. It is the still point, the place of emptiness, ending, and complete release. It is the void, the darkness of night.
Both of these points have the power to draw our awareness into the timeless, motionless place of the center, where our truest essence can shine forth.