Listen to Your Sole

Even the sacred requires the levity of a profane pun. And, no, I can’t claim credit for this one.

I found this statue in a park across from the studio where I taught in Beijing. I don’t know the statue’s story—the Chinese likely wouldn’t identify the subject’s posture as a yoga pose—but the shape was, to me, instantly recognizable as akarna dhanurasana.

Akarna dhanurasana means “bow to the ear”; it’s a shape where one foot is pulled back by the ear as one would draw a bow. Since the physical objective involves connecting the sole of the foot with the aural orifice, the listen to your sole/soul pun becomes just irresistible.

And the play on words raises a question: How do we shift from contorting the body into odd physical shapes to yoga’s deeper project, the examination of the self or soul? Edwin Bryant, in his commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, allows that asana can be a suitable channel to self-awareness, provided it is performed with the objective of using it to fix the mind on a single point and thereby quiet the incessant mental chatter that obscures one’s ability to see the self or soul. In other words, it’s the intention behind the action that makes yoga more than mere physical pursuit. If we’re concerned only to make sole meet ear, the undertaking remains an exercise in corporeal flexibility. If, on the other hand, we actively observe our reactions to the attempt—Are our efforts driven or lackadaisical? Do we respond to the results with smug satisfaction or with frustration?—building the shape becomes a vehicle for acutely tuning into the machinations of the deeper self. It becomes, in essence, an exercise in listening to the soul.

–Jennie Cohen

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