*I wrote this one morning at Nagi Gompa – the Buddhist nunnery outside Kathmandu.
I was reminded today, as I moved through the postures in the cold of my otherwise cozy little nunnery room, of the advantages and challenges of practicing on one’s own. For many years, while working for FDA, I practiced mostly on my own in sterile hotel rooms around the globe with occasional experimental visits to yoga studios. Hong Kong, Singapore, Beijing, Lima, Bangkok, Brussels, and so on, these were the places where I’d roll out my mat. No one around to commiserate with, breathe with, or draw moral support. Just me and sometimes barely enough space to put down my mat.
Jivamukti had trained me well for guiding myself through a solid practice and keeping up the discipline and desire to maintain the commitment, but it was certainly a challenge and there were days when I just didn’t feel like doing it. It’s hard to keep it up without the support of a community or a teacher.
And hence the reason why it’s so important to explore because at the end of the day, the week, the year, our life – if we manage to keep it up – this practice is an internal one. It’s about getting to know the body, the breath and the mind and the interwoven nature of their existence. On the outermost level the body is the vehicle, the playground, the laboratory, if you will, for the exploration of one’s self. How we move, how we breath, how we digest food, how we digest information, and how we feel the external world around us – these are all up for grabs for analysis in this laboratory. So much of the time we’re just going through the motions of life, not putting much attention toward what’s actually happening within and around us. The mat is a place where we can turn that on its head (literally) and do the work to understand who we are, how we act and why. And with any luck, at the end of the practice, we come away just a little bit better at navigating the external forces and present ourselves as a little bit kinder, a little bit more compassionate, and a little bit less likely to make a total ass of ourselves when the shit hits the fan – cause it always does….
In his book, Core of the Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar translates sutra IV.8 – tatah tad-vipāka-anugunānām eva abhivyaktih vāsanānām as “All types of karma or actions, whether manovritti karma, kleśa karma or antarāya karma, leave their impressions, if not attended to, and manifest firmly in the body and mind. By attending to these adverse conditions, they can soon be converted and transformed into favourable conditions for reaching the desired goal – the ātma-darśana.”
It’s this potential for transformation, and the glimpses of it we often get from yoga practice – without really even knowing anything about this underlying philosophy – that keep us coming back. My Buddha dharma teacher, Tolkpa Tulku, often talks about how, in today’s world, we have so many options for giving attention to our outer body, but it may not even occur to us to apply such effort toward our inner self – our mind. I guess maybe the exception would be the increased acceptance of psychotherapy as useful for most of us, not just reserved for those suffering full on psychotic episodes. But, even then, it’s reliant on an external support and generally isn’t available on a daily basis. The mat is. So, when it’s tough to get on it, that may be a sign we need it that much more….