The Layers of an Onion: Reflections about Meditation and Yoga
by Annelies Smith
There is a Buddhist description of a meditation practitioner being like an onion. The more you let your discursive mind surrender to its true nature to abide or rest calmly, the more you peel away one layer of the onion pulp after another. Deep within is a radiance, transparency and simplicity that no longer seeks outer circumstances to measure against ones’ inner experience. A sense of knowing confidence prevails.
In one way, an advanced yoga practitioner is like a soft onion and a new yoga student is like a fresh onion. The soft onions are a little mushy, easy to change shape and slightly transparent. They are bendable and when they move into different asanas (yoga poses), the body spreads down the layers into a deeper place arriving at that wonderful sense of release. There is little resistance and eventually there is none. A new student has many layers that are crisp and strong and filled with potential that is about to be moved into for the first time. They are also potentially filled with the stress of daily living that is still lodged within, not having enough of an outlet.
The other day, I had a new student in class. He had a cheerful tone and a very strong body. It was his first yoga class and he was not bendable. I asked the class to come into gomukasana for an extended period of time. This fellow had a difficult time grabbing his elbow behind his back with his other hand, which was about 6 inches away. I asked him if he felt a stretch and he replied “no”. The layers were too fresh. The muscles in his upper arm had not yet learned to consciously relax. He probably did not even know they were engaged so he did not get that satisfying long slow opening in his shoulder that many yogis have grown to love. I suggested he breathe into his outer layer of skin and let it relax, slowly yielding in from there. He was able to make a shift.
In yoga as in meditation, it can be helpful to acknowledge which “layer” we are at and to slowly move in layer by layer.
Annelies Smith is a yoga teacher, body worker, and dancer. Find out more about Annelies and her work at http://vermontyogabodywork.com/