[Starting with asides: Shout out if you read the subject in Allen Iverson's voice. If you don't know what I'm talking about, it's just a quote from an NBA player that's my second-favorite professional athlete quote. First is Randy Moss's "Straight cash, homie," the inspiration for my Fantasy Football team name: "Straight Cats, homie." And yes, I'm the obnoxious person in FF who knows nothing but somehow always makes the playoffs.]
Anyway! We talking about practice this week. (:
As I mentioned, I'm in Yoga Teacher Training this month. Part of training is studying the foundational text of yoga, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a collection of 196 aphorisms that explain the theory and practice of yoga.
'Sutra' means thread in Sanskrit (think: suture), so each sutra is a concise idea that a teacher could expound upon by adding his or her own 'beads' of personal experience. Yoga is the experience. It is not a belief system; it is an active, consistent practice.
So, reading books on yoga is only so helpful. Same goes for reading this letter, of course. :)
I liken it to reading books on ice skating. You can intricately understand the physics of blades cutting across a sheet of ice and how one must move those blades to stop and turn. You could read about famous skaters and their best advice. You could even re-watch Olympic figure skaters and Stanley Cup hockey games, obsessing over skating form.
But at some point, the only way you learn how to skate is to lace up and step onto the ice. And yes, that means you're probably going to fall on your ass a few times no matter how deeply you grasp the laws of physics behind it. But you keep practicing.
As it is with yoga.
A difference with yoga is that the arena is not confined to a finite skating pond or rink—and it certainly isn't confined to a small yoga mat.
(Of the 196 sutras, only one has to do with the physical asanas (postures) practice. A single sutra mentions doing poses, the mat-based practice we've come to think of as the entirety of yoga.)
If you take a broader view of yoga, then the arena of yoga practice is each present moment of your life.
The very first yoga sutra is:
Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.
It's said if you can fully understand and live out the first four sutras, you don't need the rest as they all simply explain the first four. The first one is tempting to blow off as an introduction, until you consider the depth of saying a practice is always present-tense. Yoga is always right now and right here. It is this present moment. And this present moment. And this one. It is not the past, it is not the future. It is now.
The second sutra:
he restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.
For many of us, our minds are driving our lives. A way to know your mind is running your life? If you start on a train of thought and you cannot stop it.
I learned to ski as an adult, and after flying down a hill once, wildly out of control but so proud of myself for not falling, Stephen scolded me.
He said, "The whole time you were skiing down that hill, could you have stopped?"
I shook my head, no. Not even close.
He said, "Joyce, if you can't stop, you can't ski." He was right.
Your mind is the same way. If you cannot restrain your thought patterns, if you cannot stop your mind from wandering dangerous (and often well-worn) paths, you can't truly have real agency or autonomy in your life.
This restraint of the swirling mind is, of course, no easy feat! (That's why we practice.)
On this quest to live in the present and restrain your (perhaps) out-of-control mind, you will fall on your ass. It will hurt. A personal example I am slightly embarrassed to share:
I read lots of books on spirituality and, basically, loving this past year. I mean I literally read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called How to Love.
Yet, one Sunday night, as my husband drove us back into New York City from a weekend away, and we were searching for parking in our crowded Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope, I pointed out a decent parking spot to him. He slowed down, considered it, then decided to keep driving.
And I don't know how to explain it other than this: I lost my mind on him. I let him have it. My mind took over and all the spiritual principles I was studying went out the window in those moments of anger. And, afterward, I was ashamed, because I knew I was in the wrong, yet my ego was bruised, so I defended my position for a while, anyway.
Finally, though, I came around. I had to see that I'd fallen, and I had to stand back up. That is the practice.
Love cannot only be a philosophy one reads about; it must be a present-moment practice.
Same goes for yoga, for living in the present and restraining the mind. It is a constant, consistent, active practice. And it's happening now.
But don't take my word for it; lace up your skates and get out there. :) Rumi says:
"Do not be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth."
And to bring it back to AI: In the case of yoga, and maybe in life overall—unlike in the case of basketball—the practice is the game. :)
with Love and with Light,