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Are You Practicing Integration on the Yoga Mat?

Updated: May 3

Whether we know it not, we have all experienced yoga. It is that moment when we are so absorbed in what we are doing that past and future no longer exist. In this moment of integration each of us experiences an overwhelming sense of "okay-ness." For that time, there is nothing that will make us happier. We experience total fulfillment and contentment. We are complete and whole, content with ourselves as we are and the world as it is.

For some, these states are fleeting, haphazard and unreliable. Others experience this sense of integration only while doing a particular thing—skiing, riding a bike, reading a book, eating, making love or closing a business deal. We come to rely on those things to make us feel good and become dependent on them to feel whole.

The practice of yoga can teach us to access the state of wholeness and integration consistently and in all circumstances—not when it happens accidentally, not just on vacation, not just when we are doing what we like, but under all conditions. Whether cleaning a toilet or watching a sunset, we have equal potential to experience integration. Formal yoga practice is a laboratory for learning how to create such an experience of life.

What You Want in the End Must Be Present in the Beginning

In any form of spiritual discipline, what you want in the end must be present in the beginning in seed form. If you want to harvest mangos, you have to plant the seed of a mango. If you are practicing yoga with unity—“okay-ness”—as its ultimate purpose, then you must plant the seed of unity at the very beginning. This means that the practice of asanas must be done with the spirit of integration built into it from the beginning. Many of us do just the opposite.

When we are on the yoga mat, we behave much the same way we do in the rest of our lives—with dis-integration. Rather than accepting the limitations present in the body, we make ourselves wrong in order to motivate ourselves to fit our image of how we should be. We tell ourselves, "I'm going to keep up with the rest of the class even if it kills me." We look at the most flexible person in the class and say, "Look at how much better she is than me." While in an asana, we are busy thinking, “I'm not going to be the first one coming out of the pose." These are all signs of internal struggle, criticism, comparison and competition—the same messages our mind sends us all day long. The yoga mat is no different. We are reinforcing the ego that continually needs to prove its self worth. This time, the location happens to be the yoga mat. We are planting lemon seeds and hoping to harvest mangos. Should we be surprised it doesn't work?

How to Practice with Integrative Intention

Integration is experienced when we are fully present in any moment without needing to prove anything, or make anything happen differently. We allow it to be as it is.

  1. In yoga practice, this means accepting your body exactly as it is. It means being in the pose in a way that is appropriate for your body—not according to what your ego is telling you, but according to what your body is telling you. This acceptance helps silence divisive thoughts and emotions that are caused by self-criticism, comparison and competition.

  2. During yoga practice, fears, resistances and insecurities will arise. Fighting these will only cause more internal disturbance. Instead, when you notice these thoughts arise, disengage from them, see that they are not you—but simply habitual comments of the mind. You do not need to act on them or do anything with them. Bring your focus back to breath and alignment as an anchor for your mind. If you notice that you have been "hooked" by a particular thought and are performing the asanas from ego, simply bring yourself (without judgment or comment) back to your intention to practice from integration.

  3. Work at your edge, where you are dynamically active, but are not inducing fight or struggle in the body.

  4. Working within your body’s capacity, allow all sensations that arise to be felt without labeling, judging or preference for one sensation over another. Notice the tendency of the mind to try to carve out some experiences from others and label them "uncomfortable" or "unpleasant.” Watch the habit of the body and mind to try to get away from that which it has labeled as "unwanted.” This is what we do in life. Instead, experiment with allowing those sensations that have been carved out by mind as "uncomfortable" to dissolve back into pure sensation—felt no more, no less than any other sensation in your field of awareness.

Accepting What Is

The yogis found that it is our inability to be present with what is as it is is the cause of all suffering. The moment we decide that something needs to be different than it is, we have sown the seeds of our own unhappiness. No moment can arise any differently than the way it is. If I want the moment to be different, I place myself at odds with reality. As soon as one part of me decides something is "wrong" with anything, the potential to experience integration, peace and contentment is gone. I become divided and conflicted. The present moment becomes something I need to get away from so that I can achieve some distant image in the future. The greater the gap between where I am now and where my ego tells me I need to be, the greater the division—and therefore the greater discontent—I experience.

Yoga practice is intended to put demands on the body and mind in “laboratory” conditions so that we can see our habitual tendency to get away from or manage reality. We try to escape from the discomfort—physical, mental or emotional—in the pose in much the same way we do in life. As we learn to better allow all sensations, emotions, and thoughts to be present without needing to comment, fix, judge, rationalize, or change the experience in any way, we are in practice for life circumstances in which we are called to do the same.

As we progressively learn to bypass the tendencies of the mind to manage reality, we drop into the state of being that is always present. In the absence of striving to achieve anything or make anything happen, we experience the Being that we are. Yoga becomes the practice ground for learning to live in the state of integration.

Living from Integrative Intention

Living in the state of integration comes down to this—be free from the need for anything to show up differently than it is and you will experience the fullness of the moment.

  1. Stop trying to manage reality—people, places and things—to make them more to your liking.

  2. Watch the tendency to feed the ego and escape from fear and insecurity by trying to win approval from yourself or others. Instead, let your doing be a natural outcome of the fullness you experience inside.

  3. Practice relaxing into the moment no matter what is taking place. When facing a situation to which you would normally react, catch yourself and say, “Can I relax with this?” “What about this?”

  4. Even when faced with internal dialogues and conflict, do not struggle or fight—watch. Let your thoughts flow through you without comment or judgment. The less you feed the ego mind, the weaker it will become.

Living with integrative intention, like practicing yoga, is not about perfection. It is like a game. Watch what catches you and pulls you back into being at odds with reality. By and by you will notice that just by putting your attention on your intention to be integrated, you will be able to relax with more and more of the things that happen in your life.

Originally published on on February 24, 2008

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