“[Duke] Ellington never let you forget that music was his profession. On the other hand, the popular vision of Coltrane is that he seemed to ask you, repeatedly, to alter your life.”
Ben Ratliff

Coltrane: The Story of a Sound

Preparing for Practice

n

Example1: Then

My first meeting with Yoga was what I now think of as “play Yoga” – it was of mediocre quality – but it was good enough to hold me and eventually lead me to something better. Shortly after I met my teacher and was introduced to quality practices, I took on, in addition to weekly classes, private lessons which led to daily practices. The practices were very rewarding and I practiced a lot – at one point I was practicing two long practices – one in the morning and one in the evening.

At the time I was working a full time job and spending ~2.5 hours driving every day (I lived in Raanana and worked in Jerusalem). To maintain my practices I had to create and stick to an organized routine that made it possible for me to arrive on-the-mat ready for practice.

Evening practices required attention and planning. I wanted to be on the mat at a given time with an empty stomach. The first piece of the puzzle was time – arriving and leaving work at a fixed time (more or less). The second piece of the puzzle was food. At the time my eating habits were also changing – which ultimately meant bringing home-cooked food with me to work (I eventually purchased a small microwave oven for the office). My constitution requires that I eat frequently (every few hours) and not too much. I also had to stop taking food an hour or two before leaving the office – so I would arrive on the mat with an empty stomach. My meal-times were not perfectly fixed but they were anchors in my day. Work and meetings populated the time windows that remained between arriving, meals and leaving.

Morning practices were fairly easy to accommodate because they came before everything else. I would get up at ~04:00am, practice and be out the door by 06:00am. Yet getting up in the morning fresh for practices was dependent on the previous day. The qualities of the previous day, the quantity and quality of sleep all affected the next morning practice and the day that followed it in an never ending loop. My intention was to create a constantly improving loop of life and practice.

Writing these words I realize more then ever that I wasn’t really engaged with my job. Being on-the-mat was much more enticing and rewarding then being off-the-mat.

Example2: Now

I am now in a transition period. I am slowly building my way toward a regular practice. The challenge is very different, because I exist in a very different reality – there are no clear borders between work and life – my life includes activities which may be considered to be work. I am free and I am responsible for the shape and content of my days.

I am currently shifting from one morning practice to two practices: one in the morning and one in the evening (the practices have different and complementary qualities). My current challenge and focus is on the morning practice – I still haven’t found a smooth way into it (I had a formula a while back, but it isn’t working for me now). I get up fairly fresh and sharp but both my body and mind are still “stiff” – and so I prefer to make a transition, to let the energy start flowing before practicing.

I used (and still prefer) to avoid the computer in the morning hours. Reading a book with a cup of tea used to do the trick. But recently sitting to read leaves me with a heaviness that inhibits practice. So I am now giving the computer another chance. It works best if I have some fresh writing to do – but that isn’t always the case. So sometimes I do some catching up on reading some articles that have accumulated in my browser.

I can name two risks to being at the computer. If I get caught in front of it for too long the practice window closes – life noises (though I live in a small village – it too comes to life), heat (summer in Israel is hot) and hunger are some example of obstacles that arise. Another risk is distraction – the computer offers easy access to many potential distractions – sometimes all it takes is one annoying email that clings and dominates my mind, making practice difficult or ineffective.

Writing these words I realize that a solution may be right under my nose. I haven’t played my Shakuhachi for some time (it is a meditative instrument – and I haven’t felt ready for it) and I miss it. Maybe this space in the morning can be a good place for Shakuhachi?

A Life Practice

For me, the seemingly simple act of preparing for practice has been a foundation in building a bridge between practice on-the-mat and life off-the-mat. People often come to Yoga expecting it to balance out and improve their life. There is that, but my experience has been that the greater effect is the other way around – balancing and improving life is a key to a better Yoga practice. It is a subtle and effective way of letting Yoga reach beyond the mat and insinuate itself into a wider life-consciousness.

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