Many years ago when I was practicing yoga in Mysore, I went to see a Vedic astrologer. The first question he asked me was, “Why did you come to India?” I told him that I had come to study yoga. His reply was, “Very good, yoga will make you a human shock absorber.” I interpreted this as meaning that yoga is something that helps us to adapt to change. Of the 196 sutras of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, only three of these broach the subject of asana. The first two of these suggest that the practice of asana involves a marriage of opposing, yet complimentary forces—sthira (stability) and sukham (ease), and prayatna (effort) and saitilyam (surrender). Patanjali suggests that if we can find a balance between these opposing, yet complimentary forces then, “Tatah dvandva anabighatah”—then we will be undisturbed by duality. Asana practice offers us a very concentrated experience of duality: inhalation and exhalation, extension and flexion, right side and left side, forward bends and backward bends, upward dogs and downward dogs, standing poses and inversions, etc. Throughout this dance of duality we are asked to be steady, yet relaxed and to exert appropriate effort combined with appropriate surrender to balance the action of trying to make it happen with the non-action of allowing it to happen. It’s not an easy process to figure out and generally takes years of practice to do so. The varieties of asanas can be thought of as metaphors for the many different situations we encounter in our daily lives. As we move from one to another, each asana requires a unique assessment and approach that encourages us to develop our ability to adapt to change.
Over the past few days I’ve had the opportunity to test my skills of adaptability. Last Saturday morning marked the conclusion of week two of the Mt. Shasta retreat. It’s always a great bonding experience for all of the participants, and it’s a little sad to say goodbye to everyone. The closing circle has come to be known as the “Circle of Tears” because there are always a few people who get emotional—one of them is always me. After packing up my car and taking care of all the unfinished business from the two weeks, I proceeded to drive 700 miles on the I-5 and got back to Encinitas at 10:30 Saturday night, starving and somewhat vata deranged. After some food, a hot bath, and a little light reading I was finally able to go to sleep about 1am. Sunday morning I was up at 6:30 and went in and attempted to do the second series and teach two yoga classes. After lunch I was ready for a prodigious nap, but remembered that I had promised to meet some old friends who were in town at the beach. By the time evening rolled around I was ready for an early bedtime and a good long sleep. Inexplicably, I fond myself tossing and turning most of the night, finally settling into some quality sleep early in the morning, only to be rudely awakened by my alarm at 4:30. As things slowly came into focus I realized that Monday was the first day of a two week training course, during which I am working ten hours a day. The first day I was a little tired, but managed to get through it better than I expected. Today was much better. I think I’m starting to get the hang of this whole adaptability process.