Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Practice has been very ordinary lately and I'm discovering that I find ordinary very soothing, comforting almost. Much of time, I'm content, both on the mat and off. I don't write much about it as there's only so much to say about ordinariness regardless of how many ups and downs are contained within it.

I'm reading Richard Freeman's 'The Mirror of Yoga' at the moment and Richard has this to say about ordinary practice:
"When you practice non-exotic, everyday yoga--looking deeply at the ordinary experience, becoming more honest and more kind--there is a great sense of relief."

...and then I saw this beautiful post by Laine who says:
"It's funny sometimes, when you realize how utterly ordinary heartbreak is. When you are sitting in yoga class looking at your toes and realizing that if you tried to put what (and who) broke your heart into words it would just sound so ordinary."

I taught a modified Ashtanga class to a group of older folks for about a year and one of the students who was just about to turn 80 surprised me one day after class. She had been coming to class maybe once or twice a month for a few months and had just finished reading the book 'Eat, Pray, Love' before class. After class she wanted to know: "Were we going to get enlightened soon then?"

Despite her nearly 80 years of life experience, she was still looking for a way around the ordinariness. She expected more drama from her fledgling yoga practice and was, I think, a little disappointed when it seemed to her like nothing dramatic was happening in her practice. Eventually we didn't see her in class much anymore, so it's hard to know whether she would have ever seen the relief on the other side of the boredom.

I'm suspicious of anything too exciting, but that doesn't stop me from getting hooked in by drama. The farther I go up, the farther down there is to come. One of the aspects of Ashtanga that originally attracted me to the practice was the routine nature of it..same poses, same order, everyday. It was only once I really dug into the practice that I found all the upheavals within the ordinary routine of practice. Dig any one hole deep enough and whatever's below ground will come spurting out for sure.

I agree with Richard. The ordinary, non-exotic kind of yoga practice is enough and is a relief. Ordinary practice and ordinary relationship has enough depth and vibrancy to last lifetimes.

I just finished reading Elizabeth Gilbert's new book, 'Committed', the sequel to 'Eat, Pray, Love' and I think she would agree with Richard Freeman. Ordinariness is a relief.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Yoga Practice, Yoga Performance

I was babbling on about yoga practice once and a friend was patiently listening. Finally, he stopped me and asked if there was ever a "yoga performance". Puzzled, I asked him to elaborate. He explained: I kept going on about my "yoga practice". He wondered if it was always practice or if there was ever performance?

At the time this made me laugh. I'd never thought about what I do in "yoga practice" in quite that way, as yoga practice in preparation for a future yoga performance. I said "No, there was no "yoga performance", just "yoga practice".

This week, I've been thinking that I answered too quickly. Maybe there is "yoga performance". Practice is what I do every morning on the mat. Once I leave the mat, it is in some sense maybe, a yoga performance. Every day is another chance to explore what is possible. I'm not sure that the tough choices get any easier or more comfortable with a daily yoga practice. My yoga practice does seem to provide access to greater awareness of what choices are in front of me...although I would not necessarily equate greater awareness with greater ease or comfort.

I'm reminded this week of the Buddhist story of equanimity:
...I wish I could find the author and give credit properly...but it starts something like this:

"A man's only son is thrown off a horse and breaks his leg. The man's neighbor says "Oh, this is bad!" The man says, "Maybe, maybe not". The army recruiters then visit the village and take all able men off to serve in a war. Since the man's son has a broken leg, he does not have to go. The man's neighbor says, "Oh, this is good! The broken leg is a blessing!" The man says, "Maybe, maybe not."

The story continues in this vein with one event happening after another that we would typically label as "good" or "bad". The story illustrates that nothing is that simple as nothing can be disconnected in that way from everything else.

On Monday morning, our beloved mix breed dog, Asha, died. We miss her terribly. I would like to label this event as "bad", but I cannot entirely do that. In response to the sad news, my husband and I have been flooded with messages of kindness and love from friends and family. It is a reminder that there is always light and dark if I look for it. They are not separate from one another.

My work then as I finish my morning "yoga practice" on the mat is to do my best each moment at "yoga performance", using the experiences of practice to guide my responses to events as they happen, leaving room for the unexpected. I'm sad, missing a very devoted companion, but also feeling very loved and connected as I've been reminded that nothing happens in isolation.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Non-attachment and Love

I've been pretty quiet on the blog front lately. I've had lots to think about. It relates to yoga only in the way that everything relates to yoga if the picture is broad enough, so I'll toss some of those thoughts out here.

I've been in several Yoga Sutra study sessions at workshops with Beryl Bender Birch. In each session the idea of non-attachment has come up at some point. Beryl will often have us go around the room and name something we're attached to. The same answers always come up: partner/spouse, children, family, pets, career, house, city...and someone always says yoga. The idea of non-attachment to non-living things that are none-the-less important is generally something that the group has no trouble wrapping its collective head around...but then the group starts to wrestle a bit with the idea of non-attachment to the living beings that are important to us. How do we reconcile non-attachment with love?

I was at a workshop with Beryl only few days after her husband of 20-some years, Thom Birch, had died suddenly. We wrestled with these same questions at that workshop and I saw what it looked like when someone with 30 years of yoga practice came to face this question in a very direct way. Beryl grieved for the husband she missed, but not in an overly-dramatic, grasping way. Years of practice of non-attachment meant that she was able to let go with some amount of grace. Years of love meant that it still hurt.

I do not yet have her grace.

A week ago, Asha, our beloved mix breed dog was diagnosed with liver disease. There is no cure and very little that can be done to treat it. The prognosis from the vet is that she might live 2 more years, or maybe considerably less...they just really don't know. She's only 3 1/2 years old and is very much a "fur-baby" so this is especially tough. I find myself wrestling with these same questions of non-attachment and love. When the liver function is reduced to the point that she can no longer enjoy being a dog, will I be able to make the right decision?...a decision that comes from loving non-attachment?

Ultimately, these events are what I practice for. Nearly every day on the mat these questions come up even if I don't catch them at the time. When I do a pose, realize it's not happening, resolve to revisit it again the next day, and let it go, I set a pattern of non-attachment. When I give in to frustration because things aren't going as I'd like, I set a pattern of grasping, and of attachment.

When I can get myself/ego/identity out of the way, there is room for grace and for love even amidst pain.