“So is the point to graduate on up to practicing at home?” is what he asks me – this student with a very earnest look. He enjoys doing yoga, all the different styles. There’s a vague hint of worry in his query. What if he has to give up the joy of studio yoga? The pillows, the blankets, the exotic props like rope wall he’ll never be able to replicate at home. Not to mention the play lists of some of his favorite teachers, the friends he’s made. Is this all just a station on the way to enlightenment? A pit stop for the not-fully present?
I think not. Therefore I am not.
I am not here to tell you to give up your beloved studio yoga. Nor your dvds not to mention cherished teachers discovered on YouTube. Working with others has an undeniable charm, a lingering appeal, a mysterious aura of possibility. We’ll all cross the finish line together. Group practice encourages as much as it discourages, fosters friendships, engages dynamically. If I were a music teacher – the studio classes would be like band class, or orchestra. If I were an art teacher the classes would be like studio time – with a shared model. If I were a writing teacher the classes would be like – well, like class time. . .
My point is, and I do have one, that even though I met my writing professor twice and three times weekly during college, at home I worked on my own stuff. The point is not to give up on the world completely, but to practice basics for a firm foundation. Come back to class for pointers and refinements, edits and encouragements. Don’t try class like a be-all and end-all. That would be like behaving nobly, morally, ethically only in church. Silly, right? That would be like sleeping only in bed, or eating only in restaurants.
I may never cook to the level of a chef, but I damn sure know the basics. I won’t starve. I figure out when my son is small that in about the same amount of time we can wait for a pizza delivery we can make a better, healthier, one at home as a shared activity. I think he’ll agree our grand days of pizza construction, jam and jelly production, bread baking, soap making and the like are some pleasant memories indeed. We didn’t make soap to put Proctor and Gamble out of business. We did it for the sheer fun of creation, building, puzzling out, craftiness.
Consider the analogy of music lessons. At home I practice scales. Scales aren’t songs, just the bones of songs. By repeating them all in a cycle from middle C I learn to hear the relation of note to note, to recognize chords. When my son complains that keys with lots o’flats or more than six sharps are “hard” I advise him to close the sheet, close his eyes and just start playing on that f#. The ear hears a wrong note sooner than one’s brain can label the bad note’s name. Scales teach relationships, and the relationships between one note and the next doesn’t vary. Save for the difference between major and minor, tonal scales are static – the relationship consistent.
If I know my scales I can intuit the next resolution or marvel at the unexpected. If I don’t know my scales music is still enjoyable albeit, less understandable. If I want to write my own music, for my own pleasure, it doesn’t have to be good. The joy is in the putting down my feelings, my thoughts, into tones that reflect my emotions – which would be hard if I lack basic fundamentals.
Yoga is like that. Maybe I don’t need to know enough to sequence an hour-long class, but anyone, everyone practicing yoga ought to know enough to decide which comes first in my practice the twists or the inversions? The headstand or the handstand? The seated poses or the standing ones? A full forward fold or a triangle pose? Knowing how to sequence from easy to hard, or up to a peak pose results in an organically opening flow. The same poses executed in a clunky, inefficient, unnatural manner confuses the body and fetters the mind. We should not be here due to chance alone. There are reliable methods to the madness.
Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not neither do they spin. But even the lilies, the supposedly non-sentient lilies, manage to strive towards the sun. This living being embodies self-preservation. What do I have that a lily doesn’t? The peculiar ability to self-reflect. My experience is a feedback loop. If I lie in the sun and come home with a sunburn, I’m forever effected. The smell of the sea, the sound of pounding waves, the tactile sensation of sand between my toes, notoriously evoke that unpleasant memory of sweat, of heat and burn, of thirst, of physical exhaustion.
I remember. When I remember again, I’m remembering my memory, that’s what I mean by a feedback loop. Memories live in the ever present and effect future decisions. Like a camera pointed at itself in the mirror I keep working off of what got me here. Seeing what I have seen as a filter over my future. My past like a sly oily scum blurs the edges of my present in-put – I’m a closed loop unless I can get out of myself, be over myself, stand beside myself and see myself, however briefly, as others see me.
One of the power tools in the self-awareness toolbox is the repeated practice. If my primary series is done as close to the same time every day, in exactly the same place, the only thing that changes with each passing attempt – is me. What am I going to do with that information? Make my studio practice all the more badass. Understanding one’s self is the key to the whole practice is it not? Because until, or unless, I understand my self – how is anything else to make sense to me?
The teacher can micro manage all she wants, telling me quite literally when to breathe. But none of that matters into Kumari unless I know why I’m doing what I’m doing, what is the cause, what is the effect? Without knowing such fundamentals, basics, foundation – whether we’re talking about art, or music, quantum physics, or yoga it just ain’t gonna fall together. The puzzle pieces won’t resolve into an image. They just remain unintegrated pieces of a wildly scary arcane occult whole. Who needs that?
I’m here to make yoga understandable. So why not stop by for a class? Full schedule is under the calendar page.
Now y’all play nice!