Years ago, my yoga practice focused on poses. I balanced on bones. I let muscles fall away. The allure of the outdoors took me away from the studio. The diversion filled me with a desire to find magical places that exist in the heart – those powerful images from the field. They were more than a vision. They were a feast of visions and sensations. They were hard-won battles my body suffered and celebrated. I pushed myself to the edge and peered over. There, I saw vast and endless valleys and a lifetime of adventure. I would never go back to the mat, I thought. Not with this much life to live.
The meditation that allows me to escape from the human condition is in both places – the field as well as the studio. It’s there in the exotic force of nature, but it’s there in the empty hollow of it, too. Ten years ago, my shoulders rested on the mat, floor or “earth.” Reaching forward, I felt my edge: the boundary of my physical ability to stretch, the inner limit of my range where I hesitate. Ahead of me was the mirror not the mountain. Ahead of me was the boundary and the boundless, same in the studio as in the field, but also different.
The sight of a white and black English setter hunting the side of a mountain valley is partly a painting in progress with brush strokes working fast to capture a memory of a place in time. Partly, it is a ballet in which the body of the dancer embodies the meaning of the dance. Partly, because to watch and create at the same time is not possible. My part is only visible like it is in a dream. My mind takes in my place and, if I’m any good at dreaming, the effect is one that turns the visible world inside out. The secret world of imagination, emotion and memory spins on its axis, and I wake up. I didn’t hear the shot. I don’t remember the finer details – they escape me like smoke. Ahead of me is the mirror, a photograph, a scrap of time and not time itself.
I returned to yoga because I found myself observing too much. My time in the outdoors was exchanged in too many words, too many shared photographs, and too many thoughts on the subject. I had started to hover, as if in a dream. I had waxed too poetic. I wanted to feel my weight again. I wanted to push the inner edges of myself again. The bare walls of the studio gave me no distraction from the constricting force of my own nature. It was the wall around me I worried about more than the limits of my outward experiences. This invisible wall was built out of fear: a physical fear of pain, a psychological fear of suffering, and a spiritual fear of intensity.
The visible world holds everything that we see, that moves us and touches us through our senses. The invisible world holds everything within us, and those valleys are just as vast. When I go to the edge outdoors, I’m working the outside edge, so to speak. It is the frontier of myself – my small self in an environment that is so much bigger. When I go to the edge in yoga, I work the interior edge. No one can see the work I do with intention. What the two worlds – visible and invisible – have in common is a moment of hesitation and wonder. Then, there is the desire to push through it, to discover more. They’re both life in practice and action. Both living.
As much as I’ve sometimes believed that “he who hesitates is lost,” there is something of value in the pause. It’s a moment of creation. It’s not an expression of doubt to take a moment. It’s the subtle exchange between two worlds, self and other. It’s a communication that slows down time and stretches not just our bodies but our lives. That was the difference, in coming back to yoga ten years later. I’d grown in my time away, and learned it isn’t the posture – the visible form of a pose – that holds the most value, but the stillness within it.