Here’s the question I pose to myself: Is it possible to be alive, active in the world, and yet have such calm, such inner openness and presence that one can lead a life, at least in part, that is an expression of that quality of meditative quiescence. That’s on the one hand quite alert and on the other hand completely at ease, completely at rest.
I heard Arthur Zajonc — physicist, meditator, and someone living with Parkinson’s Disease — saying this, and found myself answering him aloud: Yes! Yes! I absolutely believe it is possible!
This is why I practice and teach both meditation and restorative yoga. Alert and relaxed. Awareness and ease. Meditation cultivates awareness and presence. Restorative yoga relaxes the nervous system and cultivates calm, ease, and rest. Relaxation supports awareness, and awareness supports greater ease with whatever is happening. We use these tools to plant the seeds of meditative quiescence.
Yes, we can do one of these practices without the other. If we practice restorative yoga, we relax physiologically. Our body (re)learns deep relaxation. It’s not necessary to work with the mind state (for example, through combining restorative poses with breath awareness), although often when we still the body it becomes apparent how much the mind is moving, or how restless we are! I find that the quality of mind also shifts with increasing physical relaxation, both during and after the practice.
It’s also possible to practice mindfulness without intending to relax, or even to be very physically comfortable. But meditation practice tends to be more pleasant when the body is relaxed as well as alert! Mindfulness teaches acceptance of what is: however the body is positioned, whatever its condition, regardless of the state of the nervous system. At the same time, I’ve found that mindfulness creates a container to relax into, and the nervous system shifts during meditation practice.
What I find most powerful is to integrate both practices, as part of my ongoing exploration of how they bolster, blend, and balance each other. I do this in part by holding the same question as Arthur Zajonc: how we may learn to dwell in equanimity.