Around my sangha - in the studio, via the internets, in conversation - people are in some pretty deep practice. Some are beginning or ending a training program. Some are in the online course. Some have dealt with major health or life changes and are having to shift their priorities, values, and practices around. A lot of them are in pancha karma, or the annual house cleaning of the body mind. Whenever people start digging around in the meaning and the experience of their practice, they ask what my practice, is. I mean I start to push buttons and challenge assumptions. I spend a lot of time saying neti, neti or not that, not that. Practice is not accomplishing a pose. Practice is not getting better at asana, though you will in spite of yourself. Practice is probably not even getting healthier, although that probably comes along as a side effect. Practice isn't the techniques of practice. Recently, I've been saying practice is not arms and legs, practice is not alignment, practice is not hamstrings and shoulders and backbends. I've been citing the oldest yoga texts to back me up on this: the hatha yoga pradipika, the yoga yagnavalkya, the sutras, the vedas. Asana aren't mentioned there except as breath and organs, spine stuff, the interface of attention, feeling, and having a body. I've been backing it up, too, with modern science and functional movement: asana classes that focus on vinyasa flow or yin or weight loss or restoration are imbalancing, and not the practice.
So people tend to wonder, quite fairly, what's left if practice isn't any of those things.
My practice looks like this:
- 45 minutes of meditation
- half an hour of squiggling my spine and diaphragm free (all that lay on a blanket, inhale exhale stuff)
- 10 to 30 minutes of asana. Like four poses.
- Once a week I get a solid couple of hours in. I sweat my butt off and I shake.
- Once or twice a year, I have a private session
- whenever I can, I go on retreat or training, take a class. This is workshopping time, learning time, and teacher time. Being a student, time.
- once a month i skype with my teachers.
You get the point. Asana is given the least importance, and the least time.
But it's also vital and necessary. I go a few days without, and my character gets gross. My skin changes. My muscles backslide.
This is what my practice is like, now. It's been different at different points. It'll be different again in future. But I'm not 'practicing' when I teach. I'm working with your bodies, not mine. And my asana is only mildly 'progressing': it's mostly medicinal, with a faint edge of blowing my own mind and pushing my own envelope. But that's not toward handstands or feet on my head. It's breath work and tiny flickers of movement, integrating movement, steadiness and control.
There have been years where I've had the luxury of a yoga class every day. There have been years of privates, once a month. Those are feeding times, but they are not standard. They give me nourishment for the upcoming not-class and not-privates, part. I need them to not gnaw my own paws off, or get so alone I think I'm doing the right things when really practicing my bad habits. I learn so much in them that it takes a few months and years of trying to integrate the stuff before it sinks in. I get insights two and three years after a meditation session. I remember a teacher's hand, five years after the hand touched me. Here's the thing: I both needed the hand five years ago, and i needed five years of ongoing in the meantime practice to understand and really feel the hand.
Over and over again, I have to teach, say, learn: most of this is stuff you'll do, alone. And, you can't do it alone. In a lifetime, most of the 'time' you spend in yoga will have been solitary. But much of the breakthrough, comfort, information, challenge and peak will be something that cost a bit more in effort, time, boundaries, and personal gumption. It'll come from someone else, provoking you to change. Giving you a chance. Giving you feedback or asking if you knew your hip was crooked, inviting you to some other door that you couldn't see on your own. A teacher is not a person. A teacher a is a context in which you can change. No teacher, no context. But the teacher doesn't matter, isn't a person, not a guru or a miracle or a visionary. Just a role you need in your life.
Most of my practice is not asana. It's reading, studying, writing, service work. It's little assignments teachers give me with the sutras. It's hiaku writing, as a practice. It's gone back to a mindfulness of dishwashing.
I want people to go deep into practice. I want them to go more deeply into what it means. And what it means is their lives. Their feelings. Their health. Their relationships, career, meditation. Maybe I'm a bad yoga teacher, but I tend to think practice is not yoga class. It's everything yoga class introduces you, to. But I think yoga class remains the backbone, the frame, the measuring stick. Inability or unwillingess to get to a class is a sign. But so is addiction to or dependence on class. So often we say we don't have time or money, but that's not actually the issue. And so often we want the classes to be enough, we aren't ready to commit money or personal time to things like trainings, privates, retreats, reading the books and doing the homework. There isn't anything wrong with whatever 'your practice' or lack thereof happens to be, so long as we get it: it's a reflection of values and choices. I know and respect and love some yogis and zen teachers who have completely left the yoga world. Closed studios. Started some other career. I know others who have opened studios. I know people who leave teaching so that they can reclaim learning. And I know people who keep saying they want yoga (insert: health, ease, serenity, time, to 'get it', to do teacher training, whatever) but never seem to get around to it.
My practice is asana. And it's not asana, at all. It is teaching. And it's not, at all. But it is, every single day. After years of this, I couldn't begin to tell you what has changed most, what is most important, what i love or what i hate. I'm still trying to find what inhale, means.
I sit for 45 minutes. I move slow through my spine breath. I do asana for ten minutes. And then I move on. Once a week, I take hours. And that once a week resets me from bones to neurons. Once in a blue moon, I have others to help me along the path.
That translation is straight up remeski. I can't make it better. That always. That we. That feel. 'It' is ishvara, still. Other translations focus on the timelessness (always, always) of a knowing that is humane, wisdomed, of the teacher and of the beauty of seeing with eyes not yet born. Wind moving and tree wise. Saints. Gods. Funny English teachers and old love songs, jazz riffs, the smell of salt. I'm reading Freud. Jung. Shankaracharya. Retreats put off til fall. But they'll have the pith of raw dirt and mad science, in em.