By Megan Armstrong, 500 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate
Stillness. So simple. Yet one of the most complex concepts of being human. We are creatures of always doing, whether in action or in thought, rarely finding ourselves at ease in stillness. Exploring and surrendering to the essence of stillness was the biggest challenge I faced during yoga teacher training.
On the mat, as my body moved during the two hours of asana practice each day, I would struggle to find steadiness. My body would tremble as it tried to hold each pose with perfection. I would overanalyze the contraction of each muscle and the skeletal alignment of each bone and in so doing my breath would get lost amid these thoughts. As practice would wind down and the poses would become simpler, I'd reconnect to my breath in preparation of mind and body for meditation.
But it was then that I was challenged even more. Sitting still for an hour, I would attempt to embrace the relaxation of the practice, but my mind found every way to become distracted. My focus would be on my breath for a brief moment but would then be interrupted by the sounds outside the shala, a bug landing on my skin, or sporadic thoughts. These constant distractions would eventually result in frustration and I would lose all focus.
I had imagined that the harder I tried in my yoga practice, the more quickly and more deeply I would come to a place of fulfillment. I soon realized that I was wrong.
Through tremendous amounts of guidance from my teachers, self reflection, and support from my fellow Zuna yogis, I allowed myself to surrender. Within this act of not trying so hard and truly connecting to the power of the breath, stillness became almost effortless.
This steadiness began to spill over into my journey off the mat, slowly weeding out all the distractions I constantly fill my daily life with. I began to fall in love with the simple task of sitting and soaking in the beautiful life that surrounded me in Bali. After several weeks of this mindful lifestyle, the art of stillness became my natural state of being, which took my journey on the mat deeper than I'd ever thought I could go physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
The last day of training, the faint sounds of my alarm began to chirp at 5:32 am. It took my body and mind a moment to adjust from the night's sleep, but the thought of the early morning practice from the day before lifted me out of bed effortlessly. As I sat on the small porch outside my villa, I soaked up the pre-dawn Indonesian landscape, awaiting the sound of the singing bowl to call me down to the shala for practice. For two hours, I was aware of nothing but my breath weaving through the layers of mind and body as I moved through the asana practice. As the practice began to slow, my body became completely still for pranayama and meditation. I attempted to do nothing but watch the tide of breath flow in and out. My mind and body became still as I surrendered. In the final moment of meditation during our training, I experienced a vibration much more powerful than the mind can intellectualize. I felt connected and at one with the aroma of the jungle, the sun that warmed my back, the breeze that caressed my face, and the gentle sounds of breath from my Zuna family that surrounded me. Eventually the sound of Everett’s voice called me back to the external world with the words, "Never lose sight of this radiant self." With tears, I slowly reopened my eyes to witness my surroundings and felt nothing but the pure essence of stillness.