Yoga poses versus yoga practice

This month, I’m taking myself on an “epic” road trip through the Southwest, spending time in all kinds of beautiful and exotic places: White Sands National Monument, the Painted Desert, the Grand Canyon and the red rocks of Sedona.

Everywhere I’ve gone, I’ve felt union with the spirit of the place. I’ve opened up my senses to the sights and sounds around me. I’ve been awe-struck at the new dramatic landscapes that appear as I crest a hill or emerge from a winding road into open fields surrounded by enormous red rock formations.  I’ve opened my imagination to be inspired by the pace and rhythm of being on the road with my little dog. I’ve walked my legs off and slept hard. I’ve dreamed. I’ve been up at dawn and paid attention to the way the light changes throughout the day. I’ve raced the sunset to catch a glimpse of the Very Large Array in the twilight.

In short, I’ve “done” yoga.

What I haven’t done is a bunch of pretzely yoga poses against the back drop of these fantastic places. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! The asanas are beautiful forms for the body to assume and there is nothing wrong with appreciating the body’s ability to express those forms. I’ve seen some really wonderful yoga photography in which the yoga model/practitioner is placed in unusual contexts, resulting in images that artistically evoke the singular, focused power of yoga. Photos of yoga poses are also really good for marketing! I’ve thought a lot about how such images might be good for publicizing my yoga business when I get home, how the exotic locales might help accentuate the themes and feelings I want to help people experience through their own practice of yoga.

But, I’ve opted against the exotic yoga locale as a marketing technique. No, on this trip I’ve done my asana practice in the mornings, by myself, in whatever crappy hotel room I’m waking up in that day (and the occasional nice hotel room), for free and wearing my PJs! And I’ve experienced my yoga… everywhere.

You see, one of the things I’ve remembered on this trip is that the feeling of union, the feeling of oneness within myself and with my surroundings that I’ve experienced in these unfamiliar places is achievable at home, too, in my everyday life. The sun rises and sets in Austin, Texas, every day! I just haven’t taken the opportunity to notice. I haven’t made noticing part of my practice. And I’m the one missing out!

Imagine feeling this inspired, this raw, this hopeful every day.

One of the challenges of a yoga practice — and the asana practice is a perfect place to, well, practice this — is to be open to the unique quality and character of your experience that day, that moment, in that class. Maybe you’re feeling awkward in your poses. Go with it. Enjoy the clumsiness. That’s your practice that day. Maybe you’re feeling especially strong or flexible. Go with that. That is your practice that day. All you have to do is pay attention. Notice how you are feeling. There’s so much to learn from that.

I know it’s not that easy. There’s something about everyday life that numbs us to the potential of “right here, right now.” There’s something about routine that gets in the way of practice. It’s a paradox. The practice must be repeated, and yet, it must stay new.

So, I get up in the morning and I do my asana practice in whatever space my little hotel room allows, and then I go out into the amazing world and I notice things. My vision is fresh because what I’m seeing is new. Can we find this kind of newness in our every day lives?

I don’t know; but I want to!  I shall continue to practice using the asana practice as my living, embodied metaphorical experience to prime me for the real and actual newness of every day life, for the wonder I could feel if I were open to it, for the inspiration to create something that adds newness to the world.

And, at some point, I will take pictures of myself doing yoga poses. But what I will teach, I hope, is a way of living that the yoga practice can remind us daily is possible.

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