In the enlightened place where I work, a yoga class is offered once a week. Not many people take advantage of it, partly because they don’t want to spend their lunch hour stretching around and maybe out of genuine disinterest. Today I decided to join the three or four enduring souls who show up week in and week out – I needed some winding down in preparation for a challenging meeting.
The older lady with bright red lipstick who taught the class had a soothing voice and, understandably, taught a mellow and fairly unchallenging sequence: after all, who wants to go back to their desks (or the kitchen?) sweaty and stinky? At the end, she came over to me and said “That was beautiful, you have been doing yoga for a long time”. I nodded and smiled politely.Her words stayed with me – what did she mean? That I was more flexible than everybody else in the room or that my poses were more precise? Or was my focus different? And what does it matter anyway? A yoga practice should be devoid of judgement and expectations. I have actually been giving it some thoughts recently because I think I hit a yoga wall.
Whenever I unfurl my mat, I still find joy and a body that differs every time in its needs and its performances. Over the course of the 15 years I have been practicing I have seen it change, become more flexible then lose some flexibility again. I have noticed aches and pains that weren’t there a few years ago, creakier joints. I studied with a great teacher and then wound up taking classes wherever I was or simply practicing at home. I practiced in fancy studios with the Lululemon crowd, in the open air in the jungle, at a Zen Center, at people’s homes, on remote beaches. I took instructions from famous and not so famous teachers, in disciplines ranging from Iyengar, Ashtanga, Anusara, Viniyoga and everything in between – I can jump for 90 minutes straight or I can explore 4 poses in the same time. You name it, I most likely tried it. I can smell a good teacher or a mediocre one in the first 60 seconds but I give everyone the benefit of the doubt and I will go along with it. I taught people, I learnt about the mechanics of the skeletal and muscular structures to prevent injuries in myself and others.
When you first embark on the long road to learning poses, sequences, meditation and breathing techniques, you are told that the principle behind mastering them is to be able to sit in meditation for long stretches of time. Conquering your body in order to conquer your mind. Yoga might have become just another fitness practice but that wasn’t the intention at its inception.
I have come to understand why. Intellectually such a precept always made sense but it was fun to walk into a class and twist myself in improbable poses and just enjoy a sense of well-being. It still is. There were at times challenging meditation classes that forced introspection and occasional breakthroughs – I still resort to breathing techniques to overcome fear, anxiety or just a chattering mind. But these days I feel like I hit a wall. What am I doing with all this at this point? A friend suggested I study with a true master. I thought about her words but I actually feel that whatever depth I needed to acquire from the practice is already there and, if anything, it’s the master in me that needs to uncover it. Didn’t the Buddha say that seeking can’t become an end in itself? (or something along those lines). There really is nothing to find – stillness of the mind, clarity of thought, purity of speech. In short, the ability to inhabit body and mind with ease and free of distractions and conflict. As we get older, I feel that our quest becomes more lonely maybe because our acquired wisdom and knowledge should equip us to become teachers ourselves. Isn’t that the natural order of things?