Practice time

Time was when I’d wear a watch to every class so that I could keep an eye on the time. I wanted to pace myself so that I’d have enough energy to take me through the full sequence. I needed to reassure myself that I could get to the end OK. And aside from lacking sufficient physical energy, I found concentrating so hard for 90 minutes really hard. Now a few years on, I slide through practice without ever giving a thought to the time passing. In fact I was actually quite shocked when the girl next to me in class the other day checked the time really obviously right under the teacher’s nose. It seemed kind of rude. But, who knows, she might have had her own good reasons.

In class I don’t need any longer to think about the time or the timing. I leave that to the teacher and I just flow along with their lead. So it was kind of an amusing contrast in the advanced class recently when we were given free space to practise as we wanted to for some time at the start of class. I just couldn’t settle in at all, wondering all the time if the teacher would ask us to finish up suddenly and come together as a group. I just didn’t trust there was enough time for me to absorb myself in my practice. The whole thing felt mechanical and superficial. I practised diligently but felt I was essentially just marking time and keeping my body occupied until we were told to do something else.

In my own practice I have the luxury of being on my own, not needing to take account of anyone else. I’ve been playing with two different ways of observing the perception of time (and space). Pretty big yoga for me!

I’ve been exploring how it is to remain in an asana for longer. Not as a feat of strength or endurance, but as a way of tuning into sensations more deeply. I know I habitually avoid this, preferring to keep on the move, a little reluctant to sink too deeply or pause too long. But by slowing down and inhabiting a pose for a stretch of time I feel my breath settle, my perception of physical sensations becomes more precise, I refine the posture more subtly. All the while my thoughts follow their own course of pride, doubt, fear, jubilation, impatience, boredom… an endless passage of emotions that I can see arise and dissipate one after the other. How long does all this take? It feels like a lifetime. I grow a little older here. Perhaps a little wiser too…

In contrast to taking some longer holds, I’ve also been paying more attention during transitions, exploring one or two simple moves repeatedly, trying to tune in in greater detail to how to move my body in space from one shape to another. Can I do this without losing integrity in my shapes or becoming smaller? Or could I possibly expand outward as I move through time and space? Am I really moving ever more slowly as I begin to refine the transition? Certainly time seems to slow down and there is more space between my thoughts to observe what the mind and body is doing. If my concentration fails, the transition is clumsy. If I have a momentary doubt of my ability to move with grace and precision, the transition is clumsy. If I forget proper breath, the transition is clumsy….

So I make many, many clumsy transitions! I’ve been laughing a lot as I fall over endlessly in the practice. But there is always time for one more try if I want to. Maybe the grace is in the next attempt. Or maybe it’ll end in another giggling mess.

These experiences make time feel very subjective. How long is a breath? How long does a minute feel? Maybe it’s not so interesting in itself, but in my more existential moments it makes me wonder: if my experience of time is so contingent on the amount of focus I have, what effect does this have on my experience of life? A grand question. It leads me to think about the nature of reality and consciousness and other Big Stuff that freaks me out a little.

In trying to make sense of my experiences I’ve been reflecting on PYS 3.52 “By awareness and meditation on the moments and their succession, there comes the higher knowledge that is born from discrimination”. Perhaps as I refine my perception of time so that the smallest discernible unit (kṣaṇa) becomes smaller and smaller, I will be able to make more discriminating choices? There’s more space (temporally speaking!) in which to notice more and respond accordingly? I should go away and read the commentaries — but somehow I can’t find the time to do that! 🙂

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