Written by Everett during the 2020 „Second Wave“ Lockdown
The places we went to do different things, see different people; the various modes we passed through—work, play, sweat, wander—, the undulations and contours of our days defined by what we had to do, wanted to do, or simply did for no particular reason: all this has been melted down into the nebulous mass of lockdown life.
With the shortest days upon us, the sun seeming to only half-heartedly rise and all too eagerly set, my yoga practice appears to me more and more what I always felt it to be, though never before so strongly: an activity utterly different from any other.
Certainly, the practice of yoga can feel like other things: hard work, relaxation, fun, or a little vacation.
And the effects of a yoga practice often seem similar to those of other activities: more strength, a more present mind, a sense of accomplishment.
And yet. Something about practicing yoga subtly distinguishes it from all other apparently related activities, even those in which we can find ourselves, physically or mentally, totally absorbed. Could it be that, especially in the suspended state we currently find ourselves in, the definite forms of yoga make it so special, so other?
A yoga practice consists of forms within forms. There is the form of that day, the duration of that practice, when and where.
There is the order of your movements (and stillness) in that space, the ‘style’ of yoga you choose to practice. Then there are the forms of the asanas and pranayama exercises, the specific positions assumed by the body and breath. Found within these forms are the muscular and respiratory patterns we work to become aware of and utilise during the practice. Such patterns can be found across different body shapes, levels of experience, postures, and styles.
Whether we inhale or exhale along with a specific movement, where we focus the gaze of the eyes, which muscles we contract and which we relax: all this is incorporated into the practice.
These internal patterns lead us to subtler levels, such as controlling the movement (and, eventually, non-movement) of our thoughts; sharpening the visualisations that help us better understand the physical postures and deepen our identification with them, or coming to an awareness of what is always already present in the body.
This appreciation of what has always been there—like the natural expansion and lengthening that accompanies each inhale, or the contraction and centering that comes with each exhale—is at the heart of a sustainable yoga practice. And how different it is from the constant looking ahead, planning, yearning, and procrastination that defines most people’s lives.
Though there is much to be dissatisfied with at the moment, and we look forward to a time when things will be ‘back to normal,’ our yoga practice presents us with a mirror in which we fully see ourselves, in the eternal now that knows neither past failures nor future hopes.
We practice for the practice itself—for this breath, this pose, this time taken from out of our day—and not for some unknowable future situation in which we may or may not find ourselves.
When people inquire as to whether I ever get bored, teaching and practicing so much, and so often the “same” postures, over and over again, I struggle to explain to them how different it feels to me. Every time: even from set to set, side to side.
It is as though each posture, vinyasa or pranayama is an infinitely deep pool that, as one dives ever deeper, continues to reveal new spaces, textures, sensations.
In the same way that, looking at a body of water, its surface reveals nothing of what its depths hold, watching a person do yoga discloses little of the unspeakably subtle and numerous experiences that person is having. This is part of what makes practicing in a group so compelling: to feel so deeply in oneself along with other people doing the same, though in wholly individual ways.
Practicing at home, alone, in a space totally saturated with you, your stuff, your days and nights, it’s a challenge to confront one’s own personal experience of the yoga. This is why a home practice, even when it consists of the “same” postures done at the studio, is such a different world. At home, the forms of the yoga themselves hold a mirror up to us, offering new perspectives on ourselves and the patterns found within us.