Thursday, January 7, 2010

Sutra One

Samadhi Pada

The Chapter on Contemplation in which the nature of yoga is defined and then made more perplexing and then becomes clear again. Be patient. It might make sense one day.


atha yoganusasunam

Now begins the authoritative teaching of yoga

The evocation of the word atha has gravity and is a common way to begin a teaching in the Vedic tradition. The word now is the cornerstone on which our house will be built. Atha speaks to the present and demands your attention.

My father began yoga at the age of 53. When he was in his twenties he worked in a bookstore where he was encouraged to look at the books he was selling. One day he found a book with yoga postures pictured and was intrigued. He proceeded then to have four children and a busy career and it was not until later that he picked up that thread again.
"You really should try yoga, I think you would love it!" he enthused.
"It would interrupt my smoking," I replied.

Eventually to appease him I decided to put my cigarette down for one and one half hour. I went to the yoga studio that happened to be down the street from my house. (In those days of yore we did not call them
studios but rather more properly schools of yoga.) It was called "The Yoga College of India."
I arrived in my usual body loathing gear — GIANT sweat pants and a hoodie. I entered the College of India with trepidation, fearing incense and chanting. Instead I was greeted by a teeny old lady in leotard and tights chatting with a leggy young woman. They sized up my outfit and the old lady said:
"You're going to boil in that getup."
"I'll be OK," I said.

I then joined the class where we were put through a sequence of what I can only describe as punishment for every wrong I'd ever committed. I LOVED it. There were mirrors lining one wall and the heat was insufferable. I found an opportunity to let my self-hatred flower wildly in that heat. In front of those mirrors I could assess my hair, teeth and body and deem them hideous. I could despise myself for my lack of ability to do the simplest of poses asked of me by the teacher, the tall  woman who had greeted me at the door.
"Lock your knees! Bend your back!!" she shouted at us. 

The teeny old lady next to me bent and locked and didn't break even a dipple of sweat.
I could barely walk the next day, but anger and ferocity dragged me back to the Yoga College of India.

For the first few months, the yoga practice was supplying me with my usual and steady diet of self-recrimination; a habit I was deeply married to. The mirrors provided me with the opportunity to criticize myself and others almost continuously. Then, almost imperceptibly something started to change. The first thing to happen was that I had to admit that the teeny tiny old lady, whose name was Irene, was right about my ridiculous clothing. With great reluctance, I purchased some stretchy pants and something resembling a sports bra. I then had to face myself in skin tight clothing in PUBLIC. Next I began to have some facility with the poses, which were the same each day. But each day I arrived at the Yoga College of India (and by now, it was every day), I was a different person. I began to deride myself less in the mirror. And eventually, I got out of my own way and I began to see myself truly.

Gazing at the mirrors during the course of a painful year, as I stumbled awkwardly through each pose slowly began to unloose me from the knot of an ill perceived self. The harshly critical voice slowly began to recede through no effort on my part except that I showed up to do the yoga practice each day. I began to accept myself as I was, even though I had an unfortunate haircut inspired by Sinead O'Connor and even though I was round and barely five feet tall and even though my teeth were as yellow as corn nibblets. Slowly and steadily this allowed me to love and admire the wonderful weirdos I was surrounded by in my yoga class. I became, by accident, a member of the yoga community. I became present to myself for the first time in my life.

Now authority has always had a suspicious place in my life. I get nervous and feel guilty when I pass a cop on the street even though it's been years since I willingly broke the law. But authority in yoga has a few meanings. There is the authority of the scripture and there is the authority of the one who teaches you the scripture. But the most authoritative source you potentially have is your Self. When you are present and honest with yourself, you become your own best teacher.


What do you see when you look in the mirror?

Ask yourself what authority means to you.

For further introduction go HERE!


the nibbling marmot said...

I'm so glad you're doing this, Alice. I love your voice in written form. Looking forward to checking in each Friday

Moving Forward Education said...

Ah, so it's not just me wondering why I can't make my body do the simplest things, all the while slipping in my own sweat? :) Thanks for sharing your humble beginnings--it's easy to forget that everyone starts as a beginner, that it's important to be gentle with yourself...

Kelly said...

I'm just 5 feet tall, and round, and if we had mirrors at Loka, I'd probably fret about them. But knowing that a solid practice helped these feelings recede and something wonderful take place?

That's my incentive to keep going.

jon Fellman, L.Ac. said...

Although long after you got started, I am grateful I found this! Thanks Alice! Just heard about Vati... sounds exciting!