The morning after I decided not to push myself began with a special quality of practice. Seated postures (forward bends) had a long and soft quality which I usually manage only in evening practices; so was the Pranayama – I was able to practice a soft and refined Nadi Sodhana (which is usually not available to me in the morning). It led into a morning with a pleasant pace. I, again, witnessed, how doing less can sometimes be more.
Then some surprise physical work came my way. I enjoyed the work greatly but I lost track of time and I failed to eat and drink properly. By the time I realized this it was too late. I spent the remainder of the evening with a painful headache and bad digestion. I had to force myself to eat and drink to quiet and replenish my energy, against the wishes of my digestion. I woke up the next morning feeling better but close to the edge. I spent the next day mostly cooking and eating, barely able to focus on anything else. It took until the next morning (a total of 36 hours) to bring my system back to health.
“Living in this hut, free of all anxieties,
one should earnestly practice Yoga as taught by one’s guru”
(Hatha Yoga Pradipika 1.14 – translation by Brian Akers)
These past few days reminded me about a subtle, often overlooked, aspect of the relationship between Yoga and everyday life. People today often come to Yoga for relaxation, for relief from the stresses of life. But originally it was the other way around – a prerequisite for Yoga practice was a life free of anxieties. I spent 36 hours rejuvenating my system to a point where I could effectively practice again.
This also sheds light on the ideas of practice “on-the-mat” and “off-the-mat”. Usually I touch on this subject in asking how on-the-mat practice can reach out and extend off-the-mat. Here it is encountered the other way around: how can off-the-mat practice effect on-the-mat practice. My relationship with Yoga (as I think is the case with most people) started on-the-mat. I now believe that beyond a certain point, a practice on-the-mat cannot continue to evolve unless it resonates off-the-mat as well. At one point you will have to make changes in your life, to create conditions for your on-the-mat practice to continue evolving.
Yesterday our order of burning wood for the winter months arrived. It’s a first for me. When the truck left this huge pile was left on the street near our house.
Shortly after I started tossing pieces down to our house some kids from across the street came and asked if they could help – which was a great help. Soon other kids appeared and it turned out to be quite a celebration.
I arranged some bricks that are lying around into a small, closed storage space which I will cover once it’s filled.
There is still some work left to place everything inside.
… and this is Tree!
Here I am, writing instead of practicing… writing as a practice…
In the book “Cave in the Snow“, Tenzin Palmo (I don’t have the book with me to offer a precise quote) says that you shouldn’t be on the mat unless you are present on the mat. Preoccupations prevent us from being present. The mat is special, it’s a space dedicated to a practice of presence. So if you’re not there – you may as well be somewhere else.
My days that begin with a Yoga practice are different then days that don’t – they are better. In a similar way, the first asana of a Yoga practice affects the rest of the practice. Tonight I chose to not get on the mat. The first “asana” in my practice is choice. I did not want to get on the mat. Recognition of that choice triggered an internal dialogue – second guessing myself with a diversity of less & more convincing arguments.
The original choice remained… and I chose to act on it. I feel that had I gone on the mat I would not have been present on it – and the practice would have distracted and agitating – I have tried this many times in the past.
I am now present – writing this with a movie playing in the background. I am present with my impatience, self doubt & disturbed-energy. Getting on the mat would have been an attempt to escape from this – it probably would have failed. Instead I am:
- Doing what I felt like doing – sinking towards sleep with the help of a movie.
- Doing something I didn’t expect to do – writing this post.
- Looking forward to a fresh morning practice.
- Thinking back on the day, trying to see if there is something I would like to try doing differently tomorrow.
- … and awaiting an unplanned visit of a friend seeking help with neck pains.
On the mat, off the mat … in the end it all comes together… nicely!