Last Sunday morning before teaching, I was browsing through BKS Iyengar’s Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom
looking for a quote about my current practice obsession, the centre line.
I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I stopped in my tracks when I read this:
“I sometimes tell my pupils that the practice they do in yoga class is not, strictly speaking, yoga practice. The reason for this is that in a class, although you are undoubtedly “doing” and, hopefully, learning, you are subordinate to the teacher. The directing intelligence comes from him, and you follow to the best of your ability.
“At home, on the other hand, it is your own intelligence that is the master, and the progress that you make is yours, and will be maintained.”
Ah yes, home practice.
I’ve been meaning to write a guide to home yoga practice for more than 20 years now, prompted by my own experience of how revolutionary just one small practice, pursued daily, could be.
Without a home practice, you remain on one side of the divide, never really claiming the work as your own. Establish a practice, no matter how small, and yoga begins to transform your relationship with your body and your mind.
It’s a bit like someone who wants to play the piano, but can’t maintain a practice: they’ll never be the one playing carols at the Christmas party.
The purpose of my book would be to offer a helping hand to everyone who knows the value of a daily yoga practice, but still finds it hard to do. It wouldn’t be a practical guide, in the sense of detailed descriptions of the poses and tips on how to do them. Instead it would be a practice guide: an aid to starting, maintaining and enriching your practice.
You do indeed meet your Self on the mat, a Friend, if you like, who can be with you even when the day comes when your practice consists only of drawing one conscious breath after another.
In the meantime, what do you do when your Friend stops showing up and your practice turns dry? How do you get over not knowing what to practice and how? How do you tune in to the inner voice that is supposed to guide you?
I doubt that I’m the only one among us who has a book they’d like to write. In fact, as years go by, ideas for books accumulate, and never go away.
I haven’t written this one for all the mundane reasons. I’m too busy. I start and then lose steam. I let other things come in the way. There are other obstacles, of course, pale, crawly things that live under the rock of resistance.
One of them is the voice of doubt, that asks: “Who needs it?“
The answer, of course, is me.
I write about setting up a practice precisely because it doesn’t come easily. I’m not a former gymnast, dancer, or fitness instructor. I live a normal North American life, with a family, a studio to help run, a deep love of food and cooking, a tendency to read late into the night in the grip of a good book, and, to be frank, a love of idleness and lolling around.
But there it was, Iyengar’s pronouncement on the importance of home practice. If I have plans to write a guide to home yoga practice, it seems I ought to get to it.
So I’ve set an intention: over the coming year, I will write at minimum a first draft of a book-length guide to starting and maintaining a home yoga practice.
I’ve been thinking more about this for the past several months, ever since my friend and former editor, Daphne Gray-Grant, started planning a year-long program called Write a Book With Me.
I’ve written two cookbooks with Daphne’s help and encouragement, Five-Star Food in 1993, and Six O’Clock Solutions in 1995. She was also my editor for most of the food essays Whitecap published as Eating My Words in 2003. I know how useful it is to have her clarity available, and her way of turning mountains into rocks of a quite manageable size.
Prompted by Iyengar’s words, I’m going to jump in, and do the program. (Yes, I get the friend’s rate.)
I’ve already started preparing.
I cleared my desktop, and brought my three favorite Ganesh images together to face me as I write. Auspicious at the start of any new venture, always the remover of obstacles, Ganesh is one of the yogis’ favorite gods.
My Pipal-leaf Ganesh is from a temple in Goa. I bought lounging-on-a-leaf Ganesh in a shop in Pune, a few blocks away from the Iyengar Institute. And riding-on-a-rat Ganesh came from Banyan books, Vancouver’s spiritual bookstore.
Even multiplied by three, he’ll have his work cut out for him. Patanjali, the compiler of The Yoga Sutras, lists the obstacles in the way of yoga practice. They include doubt, laziness and indolence – three of my specialties.
In fact, I’m thinking of adding Saraswati for backup. She’s the goddess of wisdom, whose symbols include an inkpot with pen and books.
In the meantime, I plan to post here every two weeks. And I’ll let you know how it’s going with the book.