Flying carpets and the weight of expectation

luggageI’ve heard people describe their yoga mat as a flying carpet, alluding presumably to the places it transports them in their practice. Having been on the road with my mat for a month in Greece I’m just back at home for a day before I head back to Heathrow for another trip. So I also am feeling that my mat is a bit of a flying carpet — but in a much more prosaic sense. It’s simply got a lot of miles on its clock now!

I’m sure if I were a better yogini there’d be no difference between home practice and hotel practice. I wouldn’t get distracted by the unusual sounds or the often awkward space. Instead I’d execute an elegant and effortless practice in my room every time, transforming myself miraculously into a stumpier, more British version of Tara Stiles (with her hotel yoga thing).

But I’m not! And I am therefore very pleased to have managed to get in one home practice while I am briefly chez moi. ‘Home practice’ being a literal description for once. It was, well, like coming home: my favourite (non-travel friendly) mat, some familiar music to aid my focus, my usual spot in the lounge-room where I love the way the light looks (feels, almost) on the wooden floor. No laborious rug-rolling and furniture rearranging. Just me, in my own home with the way things are meant to be. It was great!

There’s something lovely and comforting about the familiar — but this is often right before it gets stale and same-y, and you contrive various ways of making it novel again! The interplay of novelty and familiar is writ large for me at the moment by physically being away from home so much, but I can also see aspects of it in the way I used to practice at the studio — the desire to hold a familiar place in the room, go to a familiar class, approach poses in a familiar way. I didn’t think then that I’d been practicing long enough for anything to require novelty:  I used to have to force myself to take different places in the room and was nervous of anything unexpected in sequences.

But on reflection I wonder if my striving mentality is actually also a manifestation of trying to control the experience of a familiar practice and make it feel obviously different (never mind wanting it to look different). But surely tuning in with more focus could bring novelty to any pose however familiar. I don’t have to push myself into a more extreme position each time to feel the pose. After all when I sit to meditate I certainly don’t try to breathe differently just so that my mind has something more interesting to focus on. The opposite in fact. I prefer to keep everything I can the same (e.g. same cushion, same asana) to present the least novelty to distract my wandering mind. Ah, but here’s another difference: when I sit to meditate I consciously approach the practice without any expectation of what it’s going to be like. I simply patiently observe (or try to — you know how it is). With asana practice I bring bucketloads of expectations to each and every practice. So many wants, aims, and ambitions. So much progress to strive for.

So how would it be if I could let go of the expectations and desires and just do asana practice and see what happens?

I have no idea!

Yet…?

4 thoughts on “Flying carpets and the weight of expectation

  1. I like the tristana approach of astanga vinyasa yoga: breath, drishti (gaze), asana (posture). A focus on the gently audible ujjayi breath transitioning in and out of the postures, and a soft gaze directed at a specific place helps me to make my asana practice more meditative : )

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    • interesting. drishti is not something emphasised in any class I’ve been so. something else for me to explore in my practice. naive question: how can I find out what is the correct drishti in each asana? Some are obvious to me just from the shape I’m in and what feels natural – eg Trikonasana up to your thumb (or for me more usually down to the floor to stop my neck cricking too badly!) – but I assume there’s something more formal than that?
      Transitions seems more and more important to me at the moment – a real make-or-break in how my practice feels.

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  2. Haha you made me laugh with the British tara stiles comment 🙂 I definitely think it is a lot harder to practice in an unfamiliar environment, because there are so many new things to notice and distract you from your practice! I have done yoga in some ridiculous locations though (tiny hostel room, while camping etc), and I just try to applaud myself for keeping up my practice even though I am not in my usual routine and be accepting of the thoughts that inevitably come to me, while trying not to follow them. Easier said than done! 🙂

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    • totally! keep applauding yourself! do you know that bit in Patanjali about the need for sustained effort in yoga (not at all the words he uses, but I don’t have the text to look at)? I think committing to your yoga no matter where you are is a part of that, esp if it feels a bit of a challenge. keep practising!

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