A recent conversation with Annelieke left me reflecting on the relationship between Yoga on-the-mat and Yoga off-the-mat. How do life choices off-the-mat resonate with on-the-mat practice to form a continuous tapestry of change?
I was surprised to recall a device I learned about many years ago in high-school when I was studying electronics (surprised because electronics has not been a part of my life except for school). The device is called a phase-locked-loop and was used in FM radios.
For those who remember doing this 🙂 … when you wanted to tune into a radio station, say 88FM, you would move a dial and as the indicator neared 88FM the signal would improve. If you shot past it, the signal would fade. There was a sweet spot where the sound came out clearest. What most people don’t know is that there is a finer process of tuning taking place behind the scenes. The dial and indicator are no-where near precise enough to select the actual frequency in which the radio station is broadcasting. The dial only allow you to come close enough for the phase-locked-loop device to kick in and do some automated tuning that locks onto the specific frequency (which is most likely not exactly 88MHZ but a frequency very close to it).
My experience has been that relatively little change takes place on-the-mat. There are fleeting moments of noticeable change, but they are the exceptions to the rule. Most of the time, practice on-the-mat is a repetition. Change is mostly subtle. Change I experience on the mat is like the phase-lock-loop mechanism – subtle tuning improvements to my current channel. It allows me to hear more clearly what the melody of my life is like on this channel.
What about changing channels? Practice on-the-mat does not do that. Changing channels is life changes … diet, life-style, living conditions, relationships … the practices of yama and niyama. The practice on-the-mat does offer, every time I care to look, a mirror .. an opportunity to see where I am, what my life is like, how I feel. Practice on the mat can help me to refine my listening, to witness better, with more subtlety, with more discernment. But sometimes my conclusion is that I want to change something in my life … I want a different melody … a better melody … I want to change channel.
This also seems to fit with my reflection on the relationship of refinement of ashtanga (the eight-limbs) of Yoga. Pranayama sheds light on the qualities of Asana practices. Asana practices shed light on how I perceive and relate to myself (Niyama). How I relate to myself sheds light on how I perceive the world around me (yama).
A superficial glimpse of Yoga may leave an impression (or carry an expectation) that Yoga is what happens on-the-mat. That logic then begs a question: how does practice on-the-mat effect life off-the-mat? What if that question is inverted? When I get on the mat my entire life comes on with me … every time. There is nothing I can do to prevent it. That logic then begs a different question: how does life meet my practice on the mat? I do not come to the mat to change. I come to the mat to see where I am and what I see. Discoveries on the mat inform me in making changes in my life.
My ability to see myself with more clarity DOES change on the mat is. That change comes from a long term, continuous, stable, deepening, caring and inspired practice. But ultimately, to experience substantial change, I must take my discoveries on the mat to my life off the mat … and there, I have found, is a life’s worth of demanding practice and potentially unrelenting change.
Getting on the mat opens a door. Change is what awaits me when I walk through that door … and if I don’t … well …