I was talking with one of my teachers today. I was talking about the same things I always talk about. To wit:
- the biophysical reality and psychological minefield of asana and yoga practice, as opposed to empty energy talk and one size fits all group classes;
- the need for a private, intimate, personal relationship to this path. An unfolding of theory into workable practice, an understanding;
- "Teacher", longevity of practice, and transformation through relationship
- authenticity of the teaching, translation of the tradition, a living reality and credible source, as opposed to palaver, spiritual platitudes, and gobbedeegook.
- becoming more alive
I apologized for my repetition. He pointed out that what feels like a tension, an unsolvable dilemma, has become something that holds. The questions are resolving. I have a path. I've learned this much, from practice: follow the threads. Don't let go.
I've been playing with the yoga sutra. In a number of different ways. I've begun playing with the sounds I can make in my throat. With song. With what I can say, what I can sound, and with breath. Don't take me too poetically: I'm singing the sanskrit alphabet in the shower every morning. You wouldn't believe the things I do in private. All this fascination with toes. Now, with the tongue, the brain, and the breath. Impression and expression, the things we cannot say, the uncanniness of emotional states and perceptions being hooked, locked, bounded by our voice. What it takes to unravel our own minds.
This sounding out sanskrit tangled for a while with conversations I was having about teachers. As in, The Teacher. This is a who am I, question, but also a please help me, one. Which also tangled with a few years of conversation about tradition. As in, The Tradition. The Teaching. And how hard it is to find the teachings.
All of this then shifted to me chanting the Yoga Sutra every day, before I practice. As a practice.
Because something uncanny happens when you spend that much time with an idea. A commitment. A thing that isn't easy.
It's said every syllable of the Sanskrit language carries metaphysical undertones and trails of meaning, much like Hebrew. Every syllable is a book of nuance, history, image and connotation. I know this: every time I repeat a chant I am simultaneously invoking all the prior times I've sounded the sound, as well as all of the other billions of times other people have made the same sounds, down through time. I make a little refuge, right there just by calling out. It's a kind of prayer, I suppose. But it has no bargaining, in it. No promising. No debate.
The concept is beautiful. So, too, are the sounds. Once you get over being a shy warble throated harpie who can't make the sounds very well.
Do this for five days in a row and you suddenly start dreaming different things. You start thinking different thoughts. You begin to make strange choices. And suddenly, the practice isn't itself but a kind of suffusion. It perfumes everything. It's right on the tip of your tongue and shows up in the sound of dishes being washed, traffic passing by. The words are tree trunks, and bird lift, and cloud pull. I've started reading my skin. It's something like seeing the moon, in full daylight. You realize the hidden aspects to things.
Eventually, I decided I should teach the sutras, as retreat. Because.
Because it is so hard to find the teachings. So hard to understand. We're told - promised - that yoga works, that the teachings are profound, that there is more to come. We've been told and told this. But all we ever really get is a yoga class, a posture, maybe a workshop now and then. But 'certifications' and even 'trainings' rarely work with the primary source. They offer synopsis and send you home.
Over the years, my teachers have given me work to do with the texts. Over the years, I've done more. I have dozens of copies, many translations. But over time, the language and the practice begin to inform one another. The concepts begin to be felt realities, rather than abstract concepts. After awhile, the 'text' is not a thing printed and bound, but an event that has happened in my bodily tissues, and my mind.
All the threads, bind:
The yoga sutra are the primary source. Or one of them.
Yet they aren't a book. It isn't a thing you 'read' like a textbook. Nor is it something to memorize and drop into a class sequence once in a while. The sutra are pithy and short, and people use them like inspirational memes or pull quotes for an asana class. But a yoga sutra is not a quote from the yoga sutras: it is an embodied experience that takes a dozen years, and a relationship that takes place between a student and a teacher, and a practice experience a student has in time.
They aren't a book. Each sutra elicits a deep study, discussion and context between student and teacher. They quite directly answer questions about 'alignment' in asana, the issues that come up and how to work with them, the principals of practice, the questions of psychology and personal dead-ends.
The yoga sutra is not a book, but a practice intended to be gone through, in and over time, with a teacher, in light of your own life.
To say this another way: I have been working with my teachers for years. They have opened doors for me that I couldn't have opened myself. I couldn't have opened them because I didn't know they were there. Shown a door, I've had to over and over again realize that the person holding it open for me can't walk through it, for me, and I've had to go deeper into my own practice. Then, I have to go back to my teacher. Because I can't practice alone. Because I don't know where the doors of my body, of the tradition, of what do I do now, might be. Every time this happens, further transformation occurs.
The yoga sutra, says this. Literally. Everything I've learned of physiology and anatomy are supported by the old sources. The essential questions of how to practice, what to practice, how to find a teacher and how to go on, are in there.
The sutra are not a book. They are something you do. Understand what breathing is. Feel where you are not able to breath. Change. Of course, there is a lot of application that needs to happen. We need to work with our own individual bodies. We have to understand what bodies are, what mind is, this incorrigible relationship between ourselves and reality being nothing like what we thought. This question: is yoga a spiritual path or not? Yes. I say. If you want it to be yoga.
All this to say I've been playing with the sutras in my practice. Half of this has gone into writing the curricula for retreat, my whole enthusiasm and heart is being poured into how to cultivate discussion, personal practice, establish solid meditation practices, marry silence and insight while we're together. Little bits of it are leaking out in a daily translation, that's showing up in images on instagram. Some further little bit of it becomes poetry. But mostly, it is my own practice. Which is all I can really share with you. The way this works. The way it has been, for me. The way yoga continues to evolve.
Finding the teachings isn't hard. Not in the way I'd first thought. It's there as surely as moon is, by daylight. Whether you've noticed, or not.
There are certain things that happen in the course of practice. They happen every single time. They are so predictable I might as well offer guarantees or seals of quality. We begin to have honest self esteem. As in we can see ourselves more clearly. We can see where we've screwed up or are imperfect, without falling apart. We know the growth and beauty possible in our own lives. And we become more fluid. Less frozen. Less cold. We become like water: now snow, now dew, now cloud. We become creative, without obsession. without fear. We become more eclectic. Not arbitrarily nor falsely, but with honesty and truth. We become more than one self all the time, insisted on and scared of having the masks pulled away. We become both our mother and our children. Sick, and well. Lover, parent, beloved, artist, common joe. We begin to enjoy ourselves, more. We begin to have greater intimacy. And we begin have a greater interior life, a soulfulness and sacred, reverent gestures. Yet we don't become dogmatic or theoretical. It happens, every single time. I can guarantee it. IF we are practicing for years, without getting lost and quitting, with reverence, and with care. If, then. You notice I say nothing of advanced postures, ended disease or aging gracefully. I say nothing here of teachers or styles or specific postures. I only said practice. Really give yourself to this, and the practice begins to give you to yourself. #retreat #yoga #yogateacher #patanjali #sutra