Seeking the Subtle

There is a word that I fell in love with while studying Ayurveda: suksma (pronounced sookshma). Even when I say it in my mind I elongate the oooo sound, I land on the second syllable. It may well be my mantra. Uttering this word grounds me and begs me to disconnect from a life that can be too full, too chaotic and anything but simple. Suksma means subtle. Suksma sarira is a phrase used to describe the subtle body, the inner wisdoms that are part of each of us. Accessing that inner wisdom allows us to find our unique path of healing and a way to more deeply know ourselves.

Suksma is like an umbrella under which I walk into the world. Remembering to both be subtle with my words and to interact with others in subtle ways is my practice. Less is more. Being is more important than doing, listening takes precedence over quick action. Suksma asks me to pare back, to get to the heart of the matter. It is a pause, it is open space and a bowing to what is sacred in each person and in every moment.

One of the most important tenants of offering yoga to people who have a history of trauma is to be non-coercive. Any instruction that supersedes a person’s ability to listen to and act on their own inner wisdom can be harmful. Offering a client an opportunity to explore their present moment experience in safety is the highest goal I hope to achieve. It is simple. It is subtle. It is the most challenging part of this work. If I am sitting on a mat and preparing for a forward bend, I could introduce it by saying “Stretch your legs out and press through your heels. Draw your spine upward and begin to hinge forward, reaching your hands to your feet. Keep your back straight, your arms engaged, your breath moving through your side body and your back. Pull slightly with your hands to move more deeply into this form.” Here is another say to share the very same form.  “You are welcome to explore some forward movement from a seated form. You are welcome to keep your legs straight or introduce a bend to your knees. This is your choice. You may choose to tilt forward a small amount or perhaps you choose to bend deeper. You are in control of the movements you make. You are welcome to pause in this form or to come back to a neutral seat at any time.” Can you hear the difference in your mind? Do you feel the difference in your body? I have learned that using words that invite rather than command and offering a choice rather than a fixed instruction are subtle ways to let another know that I trust them to do what is best. I am empowering them. I am offering them a sense of personal agency. This is suksma on the mat.

Sharing Yoga and Ayurveda with others has helped me to understand the importance of humility. Every day I realize that my role is not as a healer but rather as a facilitator of healing. I open a door and the other person may or may not choose to walk through it. I must be willing to allow for both possibilities. If I am true to my practice, I am both present to others and transparent at the same time. I am there for support and I give them permission to explore their own world at their own pace. Some days this work is easeful, other days it challenges me in profound ways.

I would like to share with you a quote that has been a personal touchstone. It was written by Thomas Merton, a man who chose to live a very simple physical life in order to leave space for seeking his spiritual truth. He welcomed the subtle, invited it in with open arms. “We have what we seek, it is there all the time, and if we give it time, it will make itself known to us.”  May you continue to explore what is subtle and important within you.