Tuesday 18 February 2014

The poustina of the yoga mat

The yoga mat can become a poustina, a place of retreat, a place in which to put aside the outside world and come back to oneself and to go out to a wider place, to expand and become one with the Everything. 
If you’re not familiar with the term ‘poustina’ (sometimes poustinia) it comes from the Russian Orthodox way and was, traditionally, a lonely place, a silent place, where one can go to listen to God.  It is a place in which to empty oneself, to enter into ‘kenosis’.  A poustina cabin or room is, effectively, a hermit’s cell – just a bed, a table, a chair, a cross and a Bible.
But the concept need not be Christian – it is, after all, purely a place of meditation, of self-expansion into dissolution.  In Spirit of the Home I talked a lot about making your home into a ‘soul’ home and yet I came to recognise that that isn’t always possible.  Usually we share our homes with other people; we cannot make them entirely suit our tastes, our inclinations, let alone our spirit.  But no matter how or where we live, we can find poustina – it could be in a chair, a corner, in the bath, on the loo. And, even if not in a physical place, then in our minds.

More and more these days, I find it on the mat.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that yoga is so generally confined and configured by the mat.  Of course you don’t need one -  you can sink into asana wherever you are – be it in the office, in the kitchen, up a mountain, in the forest, by the crashing waves on the shore. 
But there is something about a mat.  It says, ‘This is my space.  This is my world.  This is me – almost like the Vitruvian Man – stretched between Heaven and Earth, touching all points, starfish-elemented.  It becomes sacred space; hallowed space; a magic rectangle, a place of safety, of exploration, of self-awareness, of emptying, of sublimation.

It makes one become aware of one’s personal space – how we relate to other people; how far we let them in, how far we keep them out.  My yoga teacher relates how, at her training in India, they were jammed so close in class their mats nearly touched.  How, at first, it felt uncomfortable, yet – as time progressed – it became normal.  Each place was fixed, delineated, separate – and yet, from time to time, as asanas or vinyasas dictated, there was touching, adaptation, yielding, compromise.  Like stars dancing.  And, of course, everything that comes can be meditation.  No matter if it’s another person’s limb touching yours, or a shout from the road, the backfiring of a car, or a dog lying on your back.

Yes, I share my mat at home.  Curiously, the SP isn’t interested in my yoga.  Maybe he’s too much of a young soul.  But Asbo joins me every morning.  He sits at the edge of the mat as I do my warming up then joins me in a few downward and upward dogs as I salute the sun.  And this morning, as I was resting (flat on my stomach, forehead on my arms) after seven long minutes in Sphinx, he walked up and down my back (thank you, small dog, my vertebrae smiled) and then lay down neatly.

Is it still a poustina if it isn’t just you?  I don’t feel why not.  J 


Frances said...

Jane, I now see Asbo in a different light.

Thank you for the yoga suggestions in your just prior post. I am going to incorporate those into my daily routines, little by little. I already have been doing the last suggested stretch, but had not been adding the mind connection.


Anonymous said...

'Pustynia' means 'a desert' in Polandish. Yet 'pustelnik' is not 'a desert man' but 'a hermint' ('her mint':o). Cos 'pustelnia' stands for 'a hermitage'. Still meditation is about finding the desert in your mind and staying there regardless. Anything is possible. When your eyes are tight shut. :o)

Exmoorjane said...

@Frances - yes, me too...until he bit me. :) Little by little works a treat. And the mind connection is the most important bit, I feel. :)

@Maste - So you can't have a pustynik, huh? And pustynia also means waste, rite? And both pustynia and pustelnia share the root pust = empty? The waste spaces. And meditation the waste time. And anything is possible in the wastes of time and space. Regardless of ice. :)

Anonymous said...

Ex actly. Mind games. :o)

Exmoorjane said...

Whirled mages. :)