Recently I spent almost two weeks couch surfing with friends and relatives. It was awesome. Some days it was easy to pull out my travel mat, change into yoga clothes and practice. I even made it to a couple of local studio classes as we moved from town to town. The weekend that we rented a house with a group of old, dear friends, however, it became clear that no time was going to organically emerge when the group energy would quiet down so I could pull out my mat. Finally as the band finished the morning-long process of hooking up all the electronica, I decided I could hear them as well form my bedroom as I could from anywhere, and so I closed my door with the intention of practicing. I was not convinced, at this point, that I would have the will power for a full hour of asana practice. It was too hard to be away from my friends. I was wearing kind of stretchy jeans, so I figured I'd just do a few simple poses and go back to the party.
After a few forward folds and cat-cow, still something was not right. How would I know that I had practiced? What is the difference between really practicing and just stretching a little? I figured I should roll out my mat and change into yoga pants. I began as I always do with Sun Salutations (I like the "c" salutations to start). I had been away from home for 9 days and hadn't slept properly since we left, so I knew this was not the moment for my most vigorous flow. I began slowly, really focusing on my breath and sinking into each pose. Now I felt like I was practicing. Sun salutations are like an old friend -- how many times had I done this sequence over the past 10 years? Too many to count. Entering this familiar flow did what any practice is designed to do, to root us and bring us back to ourselves even in confusing transitional moments.
The lesson became even more powerful and personal as the sound checks and improvisations in the living room just outside my door turned into an old familiar song- one I had been hearing my friends play since long before my yoga practice began. The song was an old friend, one I had heard so many days listening to them rehearse, so many nights hearing them perform. How many ordinary and extraordinary occasions had this song been with us? And of course the voices were my friends' voices -- old, old friends. Friends who had been with me for my whole adult life, who had been with me as I found my calling, who had been with me on the Playa, who had been with me as I got ready to become a parent.
And here I am, alone in my cell, Sun Salutations leading to standing poses and backbends as they inevitably must. Surrounded by the sounds of old friends. The old familiar songs, the old familiar travel mat flaking off in bits on my hands and feet, the layers of meaning and memory in asana and music. 3000 miles away from home, still I was at home. This is what it means to practice.
[Note- this post is double posted on the Yoga Blog. Seemed only right.]