If Zorba the Greek practiced yoga

seismogramIt’s not exactly a seismic shift, more a tremble, perhaps still just a wobble. I wonder if my practice is shifting subtly. Or could shift subtly (or even seismically!) if I let it. My teacher has led some truly awesome classes of late that has opened me up to some new ways of practicing. I feel like it’s taken me a bit too long to get to this realisation (have I been deaf in class up til now?) but I am starting to play with a new idea in my practice: I don’t simply have to meet what I find on the mat. This is important and it’s part of satya (truth) I guess. But it can be exhausting if what you meet over and over is fear in various manifestations. Sure, some days there’s a lot else going on besides that puts fear into the back seat and gives me an easier ride, but overall practice often seems to require vast amounts of courage and perseverance and dedication. And I’m tired. [When I reflect on this I’m quite awestruck by my sticking power! Excuse the little ego-trip here, but it’s important to acknowledge.]

It’s a rewarding practice, to be sure, but I think it’s now time for it to be a lighter practice.

beginners mind quoteSo here’s my new thought: how about I bring stuff to the mat too, rather than simply responding to what I find is already there? How about I deliberately cultivate joy and openness and a big dollop of ‘I can’ when I step onto the mat? After all my continued practice shows I can show up, and I can face the grittiness, so I know this isn’t a wallpapering over the cracks manoeuvre of hiding from the truth and just pretending. Rather it’s a gesture towards change and towards ease. And I mean in the big, real off the mat stuff that might actually make a difference somewhere, not just ease in the petty discomforts of asana like the lactic acid burn of Utkatāsana (Awkward Pose) or the knotty tightness in Utthan Pristhāsana (Lizard Pose). I mean ease-in-the-world.

I read a blog post recently by a Greek yogini (which I’ve lost track of, so no link, sorry) applying the word ‘kefi’ (κέφι) to her yoga. Kefi means (and I hope I represent this well enough) a joyful, playful spirit that just bubbles out naturally. A love of life, of the moment, of your parea (another Greek word, sorry — the company you’re in, those people around you in that moment). Kefi is the feeling when body and soul are overwhelmed by emotion that must be expressed and embodied. True, it can have some tragic undertones and Greece’s history is not without troubles, but mostly kefi is about being alive now and savouring that. For me this very very subtle ambiguity is what makes kefi so compelling an idea. It’s not about heroics and battling on stoically in the face of adversity and it’s not about just pretending that everything is just sweetness and light. Kefi contains a small acknowledgement of pain and suffering but uses this positively to enrich the present moment and to lose oneself in that, because the present moment is all there is.

I’ll see what I can do to embody kefi in my practice tonight. I actually feel a little lighter just thinking about it!

zorba.jpg
Anthony Quinn in Zorba the Greek – dancing out his kefi

11 thoughts on “If Zorba the Greek practiced yoga

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        1. (As a weather aside, we’ve been having interesting extreme weather here in Ottawa. On the weekend it was -28C, -40C with the windchill, and yesterday we got over 50 cm of SNOW! Just had to share!)

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  1. yes, and yes! I love the time I spend on my mat – it’s really pleasurable and a new little adventure every day. Sometimes I put on music (I just discovered Anoushka Shankar; I also love Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra; or often traditional kirtana is just the thing) and just let myself groove in my asana practice! Dance, asana – joyous movement – is that affirmation of LIFE.

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    1. oh wow — I’m really feeling it from you! I love Jai Uttal too.
      I guess I’m realising that I can create all this myself, I don’t just have to wait for it to happen. Even if i’m not in a dancing mood, I could choose to be there, right?

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  2. Sometimes the music just takes me there – lifts me up and out of whatever. And sometimes just the music of the breath is all I need. I love my personal practice for that reason – I am free to create it. And even though Ashtanga Vinyasa is my main practice, and it is a fixed sequence practice, I can still riff on its themes.

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