What’s the answer? What’s the question?

My boss is just back from a conference so we spent some time chatting about it. The major theme for us was understanding how to organise information or data and how we find the information we need. We talked about the possible relationship between the availability of data and the questions we choose to ask, and whether we only ask the questions we know we can answer. After all, it’s kind of neat that way, with a reassuring end-point. But where does that really get us?

question mark headThese big philosophical or epistemological questions fascinate me. It reminded me of talking with my yoga teacher. I’m always stuck to pinpoint the question I want to ask. I am full of confusion and I like to think he could just lift that, if only I knew how to frame my doubt. Should I ask a broad question about a concept? Should I ask a very technical question about alignment in a particular āsana? But somehow both are answered by the simple fact of practising and experiencing, more than by any words. I think my teacher’s most valuable responses aren’t ‘answers’ at all. Rather he offers me ways of getting comfortable with the very questions, helping me find something firm enough to stand on right now while keeping me open to changing my perspective when the landscape shifts, as it inevitably does.

My written homework this month was a good example. My teacher said he liked it, with a slight, but eloquent, shrug. I get it: the answers are not really the point. The work is in the exploration not in the conclusions I might have drawn. All conclusions are contingent, and they’ll change as my experience grows and my understanding changes.

The parallels in āsana practice appear to me. Modifications I used to make no longer serve, limitations melt away and new ones arise. It’s a constant negotiation, my relationship with yoga, my relationship with each āsana. Every day a different experience, every breath full of new possibilities. I begin to see why the moments in between are as important as each āsana. We don’t ‘hold a pose’, we move towards it for an embrace of greater or lesser intensity or duration, and then we flow onto the next place. Nothing is fixed or certain. It’s a dance.

Āsana sometimes feels to me like the most esoteric aspect of yoga, the thing I understand poorly, the practice that feels the least natural. But perhaps it’s a mirror of other experiences and understandings. I can practise āsana as an embodiment of my relationship to the world. Other people talk about taking yoga off the mat; I sometimes wonder about getting yoga onto my mat!

hand-on-harmoniumI was talking to a yoga friend recently about my approach to mantras. I explained how I start with an overall impression of the meaning, then I memorise the Sanskrit until I can lose myself utterly in the sounds, then I come back to the translation and weave the meaning and the sounds and practise this way until they merge into a single understanding where language has disappeared and I’m in my heart not my head. It sounded quite cool when I explained it like that, laying it out for the first time and surprising myself! Maybe I can learn some approach to āsana that feels like this — a bold exploration, knowing that sensations, experience, effort and breath will ultimately achieve some balance, and magic will just arise. And then it will all change again…

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