The juiciness and richness that comes from tasting your food. From tasting your practice. For becoming a connoisseur of yoga. Moving from yoga fast food to yoga fine dining. I can really get behind being that kind of chef. “Serving up yoga, one breath at a time.”
When I first started doing yoga (decades ago), it wasn’t about how many poses I could cram into an hour long session. It was about how many breaths I could remain still in a posture. I remember getting all excited when it was something like “I held Trikonasana for 10 breaths 6 counts in, 6 counts out.”
The numbers may not be exact, but you get the idea. It was about how long I could sustain inhale and exhale, and then how long I could sustain that pattern in an asana. I guess I was all about a sustainable practice! And if you think about it, isn’t part of the essence of yoga having a sustainable practice?
Back in the olden days, the really olden days, say 10,000 or so years ago, it was about how long you could stay alive in order to be able to keep doing your yoga practice to give you more time to get enlightened. Now it seems like the life of a yogi is as long as they can sustain a rigorous practice until the body starts to break down. Reminds me of my dancer days. Dancers have a limited professional lifespan. At some point the body says, “I’m not into playing this way anymore.” There are exceptions – Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham were performing well into their 60s, 70s. And quite frankly, it showed. I had the honor of seeing Merce perform at that age, and it looked like he was in pain. Same with Martha.
Are we approaching our yoga practice as something that we can sustain over the long haul? I’m not saying not to do extreme postures. I’m saying that it’s how you do them. Dharma Mittra does the most wack poses, and he’s 70! But his attitude is humbling. He surrenders each pose he does “for the Lord.” I’m not talking Jesus Christ here, but for the Lord of Life. (Lord is a loaded word, but I wanted to quote him exactly). You can fill in your picture of “Lord” with whatever you want. Whatever you revere. Whatever it is that gave you your essence, your life as your essential You. He surrenders everything he does. Patanjali would call it “offering up the fruits of your practice.”
How many of us are offering up the fruits of our practice to something other than a flat abdomen, really cut arms, or the ability to do poses that no one else can do, all of which sets us apart from the pack, making us essentially “greater than,” “more desirable,” or from a teacher’s point of view, “more popular” which translates as “I’m a really good yoga teacher. “
I also fell into that trap. For a while. And I enjoyed it. It only became a trap when I kept on insisting that I practice that way, when every fiber of my being was begging me to stop and re-connect with what yoga really meant to me. To reconnect with why I did it in the first place. And that reason was all about laghavam – lightness. I wanted to feel light, be light, turn to light. I was no longer feeling light. I was feeling hurt, tight, competitive, and easily excitable. I was not able to sustain that kind of practice.
Then I took a class from Rod Stryker at a Yoga Journal conference about 12ish years ago. The theme was sthirah and sukha. (YS 2:46 Sthirah sukham asanam). I remembered my roots. I remembered my stillness. I remembered the beauty of the long, steady hold. I remembered what the heck I was doing there in the first place!
That practice changed my practice. Forever. I remembered.
So, in order to sustain our practice, we must find something there that is lasting, rewarding, that doesn’t fade with age. It’s not about the poses. It’s not about restorative vs power yoga. It’s about finding what is the real juice, the real flavor of the practice that sustains us. It’s about finding that which can provide us with nutrients in a way that inspires us to be able to bite into life and let the juiciness of it all run down our face. To delight in each bite, whether bitter or sweet.