advanced asana

Touching infinity (practice).

Patience is a virtue and I do not have it.  Of course, virtues run on spectrums; I am more patient than some; I am not a saint.  I am more patient, now, with a yoga practice inside me.  I am more patient with some things than with others; with some people than others.  I am patient, very patient, in theory; I know the truth.  But practice is hard. I see an asana and I want it.  I have been playing on my hands for months, legs akimbo, expecting that if I want it bad enough I will have that handstand held for minutes at a time and the graceful lowering into chattaruanga.  I will.  I assume it's an algorithim: spend 500 minutes up there and I'll get it, say.  Do it 6782 times.  The mind wants its answers.

I watched a woman lift herself from chattaruanga to a handstand, spin around up there for what seemed ever, and then slowly lower down.  Yes: chattaraunga, a hip lift and slow drag of the feet, mid air, toward her heels before she tucked with her abs and lifted those astronaut feet sky ward.  Yes.  She broke it down with some talk of hand placement, core engagement, positioning of the hips.  But I knew all that already.  I didn't listen to her alignment.  All I could hear was my own heart saying I want that; I want to feel that; I do.

Then I heard her, though: I practiced this for 11 years, she said.

And my throat caught.  11 years.  Dear god, what does it mean to practice a thing, any thing, for 11 years?  Who among us has the patience to do the same, small, smaller movements, day after day, for 11 long years?  What could not be accomplished with that level of discipline?  I thought of serenades on baby grands, of pig latin mastered, of epic novels written.  To pour and spend one's life with that kind of devotion is admirable.  And nearly insane, really, by our usual way of thinking.

It is not how a human being typically thinks.

But this prompted, then, another bow of my head to the way things are and acceptance.  To accepting what I already know and what already is.  Yoga is not a miracle nor a party trick.  Yoga is the development of the kind of patience that becomes devotion.  Day, after day, after day.

I say, all the time in my classes, that asana are like horizon: they are never finished.  Never.  You can look at a pose, want it, work at it and 'master' it.  But the next day in class you will realize that the pose you've mastered is only the prep pose to something else.  There is actually more.  There is always, always, more.  Poses are like horizon: they are not things you reach, but things you approach.

They are important, as approach.

I heard a middle aged housewife speak in a poetry workshop, once:  Do you realize how old I will be by the time I finish a book of poems?  She had a pinch of panic in her, like smoke in her throat.  The teacher nodded and answered: the same age you'll be if you never write it.

There is a revelation about time, here: we have all there ever will be.  We lose our guts and our hope and our patience the moment we start projecting and demanding a now.  Poems, handstands, the raising of children do not happen the day we decide we want them.  It happens in the course of time, tuned to a level of patience that resembles devotion.  It is not our want that determines these things at all, our decisions.  They are larger processes, much larger and more complex than we are.  We don't get to decide.  We get, only, to participate.

The fact is we do practice things day in and day out for eleven years.  For forty years.  For whole lifetimes.  We practice smoking cigarettes or judging ourselves.  We practice pushing too hard, being overwhelmed.  We practice procrastination and hurry.  We practice 'good enough for now' and 'I'll do it tomorrow...when I have time, when I have money, when I'm ready, when I'm stronger, when I'm married, when the kids are grown."  The art of yoga is awareness, realizing we do this, and then revering the process so much we integrate new practices: drink water, slow down, be grateful, try and let go, show up.  Just show up.  Participate.  Literally touch it. Awareness lends that appreciation and turns habits to rituals. Time to reverence. Our lives to better things.

The only way to reach infinity, that endless horizon, those poses that spill out into art, is through the smallest reverent motions with our hands and our hours. We touch it by lowering our hands to the mat. One day. And then the next day.  We unfold ourselves to infinity symbols and depth.