One of my yoga friends asked me recently if she could take me out for coffee: she had something she wanted to ask me. I assumed it would be a request for a favour of some kind. But no, it was advice she wanted. She started off the conversation a little shyly, then launched into a full on panegyric about how she had always viewed me as a mentor, about how respectful she was of my practice and how she turned to me for wisdom and perspective… Phew. After I’d stopped blushing into my espresso (too small a cup to hide behind effectively!), we got to the point of the question: which was about how to practise yoga more broadly than asana, how it was that my practice encompasses different strands and (in her eyes) just flows seamlessly through my life.
This was one big question and took us so long we got thrown out of one café at closing time and had to decamp to another further up the street. Time now for some soothing herbal tea rather than more coffee, since it was right before taking class for me at least! Or maybe I was playing for time: I had no idea how to answer this one. After all, I have fewer yoga years than she does and I don’t feel I have a broad context for my own practice. I just make it up as I go along and do what feels right on any one day.
But I suppose that’s it isn’t it? After all it’s pretty hard to step onto the mat each day and listen to what you find as you do so, letting what you encounter in those early moments of paying attention guide you towards what’s needed. To take care to hear the deeper call of body and spirit, beyond the superficial comfort of cranking out some familiar practice, avoiding the work through laziness or fear, or distracting oneself by lingering in the easy, happy places. And this assumes there’s not so much procrastination on any day that you don’t even make it to the mat/cushion! Or get caught up in the parallel world of teaching and the class prep/admin/practical mundanities required for that. And then what of the other aspects of practice off the mat? She wanted to know about learning Sanskrit and mantras, how to study philosophy and the ancient texts; and how did I marry office work with yoga values, how did I make my whole day seem like yoga… (wow — really?)
All amazing questions. I wish I had answers for her. Instead I played the annoying Socratic method and encouraged her to articulate more clearly what she really wanted, why these questions were important to her, how she might explore her own answers. Because really it struck me as quite funny that she chooses to turn to me in this. After all I’m asking myself all these same questions, as I try to figure out what Yoga is, what it might be if I could be open to the potential, and why any of it matters to me. And I’m turning to our teacher each month, feeling humble neophyte as I try to articulate my questions, asking for his help as we pick through my current confusion. Every month takes me further from what I thought I knew, endless new horizons…
But she doesn’t know this, she just sees me as having it all under control. The disparity in perception reminded me of one particularly hard day of teacher training last year when I voiced a doubt as to whether I should come back the following day, since I felt so out of place, so unequal to the demands and responsibilities. The response I got was laughing incredulity from one of the other students. “You? But you are yoga! What do you have to worry about?”
So I guess defining the practice is, um, part of the practice… No-one can do that for you. I’m struggling to do it for myself, however that looks to others. So I concluded our conversation by suggesting my friend talk to our teacher for proper insight and a more mature perspective. I hope she does. If she wants to go beyond asana, she could start by seeing what lies beyond the fancy asana sequences in his teaching. He’s my inspiration so she might as well go to the source, not the derivative.