Finding Vishnu in Your Practice

by Tracey Rich

"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance."

― T.S. Eliot

Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva are three classical representations in Yoga. The Creator, The Sustainer, The Transformer. Much is made of Brahma, as the creative force is experienced everywhere. And Shiva, the formidable power of transformation, who is also seen as The Destroyer, has a mysterious, sometimes terrifying, awe-inspiring hold on our lives.

Expansion and contraction are the ebb and flow in asana. In the bigger arc, the two most defining energies are the inhalation that brings us into life, and the final breath upon which we leave the tangible world. There is building up and breaking down, as well as beginnings and endings in the dance of Brahma and Shiva which we are experiencing endlessly.

But what about Vishnu The Sustainer in the play of our practice? How do we discern this force in our asana dance? I am especially interested in focusing on sustaining energy in the physics of yoga practice. In those infinite moments of holding a pose, what transpires there? Build up and break down are a constant so perhaps Vishnu represents the delicate balance between the two. The Sustainer could be holding the moment of infinity between the breaths, or the almost suspended animation in the flow from one movement to another that is perceived as nothingness. Could this force be the perfect point of tension and release required to engage in extensional energy--the aliveness that channels nerve flow when a muscle is balanced between contraction and relaxation? Can it be the quality of Vishnu at play as we hold an asana without collapsing or being overly engaged as our breath moves in and out, but to all other observation appears as a still point? Is The Sustainer conducting the harmonic symphony that occurs when body, mind, and breath are yoked?

I encourage you to attune, not to the representations of these classical gods, but to all the energies present in your practice. Cultivate the inherent physics in your yoga and let those qualities guide you within their natural flows. Tune into and refine the energies necessary to maintain and sustain attention, breath, and equilibrium in a continuum that flows like an underground river. That is the Vishnu in our practice.