Friday, April 23, 2010

Sutra 1.14

sutra 1:14

sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya sat karada seveto dridha bhumih

It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed.

This can be a daunting sutra: Practice yoga without interruption? You know how it is. Stuff comes up. It's Sunday morning and you were out late. Had a glass or two of wine. It's Monday. Monday blues can make you just want to go home after work. Tuesday—well Tuesday nights LOST is on. Maybe Wednesday, but your back kinda hurts. Thursday is really the new Friday and that means it's either time to collapse or go out and get the weekend started. Friday? They should really just call Friday, Saturday. And then there's Saturday which is...well Saturday is practically a holy day.
Not to fear; you've just had a very consistent practice of not practicing. And it's OK!

When I was in the early stages of my practice, I essentially replaced one addiction for drugs and alcohol with one for asana practice and yoga. Most people would agree that the exchange was better than a lateral move. As I first ventured into the Yoga Sutras I read them all quite literally and felt that Sutra 1.14 was something I should aspire to do. I became fanatical about my practice which at the time consisted of grueling hours of asana (see sutra 1.12) all completed before the sun had risen. I lead a minimal life and everything I did revolved around my practice. The only problem was that I had become a superior shit-head. Sure I was "doing" yoga everyday. Ridiculous amounts of yoga. And when I wasn't "doing" yoga I was teaching yoga. Or talking about yoga. Or talking about someone who did yoga. I felt certain in my complete immersion, despite the fact that I was an unholy bore.

It wasn't until I got pregnant that my whole understanding was forcibly changed. I happen to have been one of those pregnant women who barfed at the mere suggestion of a smell. I once walked through Oakland's Chinatown and was rendered helpless by the gag reflex. I taught yoga in a very, very hot, sweaty room with young folk who thought bathing was a bourgeois luxury. And while I tried as hard as I could to practice and teach, there was nothing about yoga that didn't want to make me puke.

It got so bad I actually had to close my little San Francisco yoga school, Ahimsa, because I was the practically sole teacher and was incapacitated for nearly the whole pregnancy by nausea. When I tried to begin my practice at home doing the "series" I would be sent into a tailspin that needs no elaboration except that I will say that I once barfed because I laughed too hard. Ask David.

Not only was I freaked out by a nausea that consumed me day and night, but I could not rely on the sole practice that had sustained me through ten years of sobriety and community. I simply could not "do" yoga. I turned to the Yoga Sutras and this time I had to stop at Sutra 1:14 and really think about what I was going to do. I realized I was just going to have to "practice" being pregnant. Little did I know that the nine months of practice only barely warmed me up for parenting.

I will freely admit today that I do not practice asana each and every day. Nor do I practice pranayama each and every day. I do practice asana, but it is not at the heart of my daily Yoga. I do not have a ritual practice in front of an altar nor do I bow to a deity or a stone or the moon with any kind of regularity. However I will say that my practice has never been stronger, steadier or more fulfilling.

What I do bow to, without interruption and with a great deal of cheer, are my family, my friends and my students. I am surrounded every moment by the opportunity to rise to the practice and apply Yoga. I can be called on to "do" Yoga as I toil over the countless meals I prepare, even when I know the lunchbox may come home exactly as I packed it. I can be called on to "do" Yoga as I help a student manage a difficult posture. I am called on to "do" Yoga as I plow through a pile of laundry that resembles the Matterhorn and I am called on to "do" Yoga as I admire my girls and David—recognizing them as spirits of divine presence in my very own living room playing dominoes as Lucy shouts: "You'll eat my dust!" And you know, I would eat her dust, I would wash her feet, and bow to her divine essence. And I do bow deeply, everyday with religious regularity as I walk in Misha and Lucy's room at 6:50 AM and sing: "Good morning! Good morning! It's great to stay up late!"

What does the word "practice" mean to you?

How does your practice influence your daily life?

How do you think you can maintain a practice?

How do you keep going with your practice when you don't feel cheerful about it or inspired by it?


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Anonymous said...

I love this post about 1.14, pregnancy, practice, teaching and family life. Thanks for your thoughts. Are you carrying on with this sutra study? hope so!