I have been following with intense interest the past few posts on Boodiba's blog. I wanted to comment on a couple of the posts, but I couldn't find a way to say something that isn't trite. So I thought I'll just write a blog post myself. But I hope you find a way to work through the ennui you are experiencing, Boodiba. The Force is always with you.
Following the exchange on Boodiba's blog brings up a deceptively simple question: "What exactly is the place of asana in our practice?" It's all too easy to respond with the "official line", and say something like, "Asana is not important. The most important thing is to breathe and to be aware of everything we are doing, both on and off the mat. The asana is just a means towards this end. Fixating on the achievement of asana brings up pride, ego, and all the other things that get in the way of self-realization."
Fair enough. I buy that (I really do). But the fact is that asana is a prominent part of the ashtanga life, at least if you measure it by the number of hours the "average" practitioner spends on asana practice a week:
6 days a week X an hour and a hour to two hours a day = 9 to 12 hours a week.
That's a lot of time to be spending on something that is "not important"! This is going to sound really crass, but imagine if we were to all get paid at least the federal minimum wage for all the hours of asana we do each month? It won't be a fortune, to be sure (it probably won't even make rent for me), but it'll still be a sizeable chunk of change, especially if you multiply that by the amount we would "earn" in a year. And this still doesn't do justice to the anguish that we experience with trying (and "failing") to achieve particular postures (dropping back/standing up, raja kapotasana, you name it), or to the emotional upheavals that accompany having to accept and work with physical limitations and injuries. I guess what I'm trying to say is that we seem to be expending a lot of physical and emotional energy on something that is "not important", that is only supposed to be a means towards an end. So why do we torture (if I may use this word) ourselves so?
An unsympathetic "outsider", who is "uninitiated" into our "ashtanga cult" would probably look at all this, smile in a somewhat amused and disdainful way, and say, "Why put yourself through all this? Don't you think your life would be easier (and probably happier) if you were to ease up on trying to achieve dropping back/standing up/rajakapotasana (or whatever)? If the point of your practice is to achieve peace of mind/self-realization, why don't you just do some sitting meditation? Or go take a walk in the park? After all, it's not as if you are going to suddenly become an enlightened being the moment you succeed in dropping back/standing up or getting rajakapotasana..."
I have an answer to this unsympathetic outsider. Well, sort of. I would probably respond by saying that although asana is "not important" in the bigger scheme of things (even though we spend a lot of time doing it), it is an invaluable tool that helps us to learn about ourselves and who we really are: In the process of striving to get our bodies to do and achieve things that seem physically impossible, we are forced to confront the ugliness that arises in ourselves in this process, accept it (yes, the ugliness) as part of ourselves, and then see what we can do to work with this ugliness and live fulfilling lives in spite of the presence of this ugliness. Is this a good reply to the unsympathetic outsider? I don't know. Well, it will have to do, because I can't think of anything better (and I want to have a reason to continue doing my practice everyday!).
Actually, there is something Kino recently wrote that really speaks to this issue. Speaking of Kino, I had a really weird dream last night. I dreamt that I was taking her workshop somewhere. Instead of leading us through a practice, Kino first had us lie down on our mats with our eyes open. And then, while we were still lying down, she somehow conjured up this holographic image of a woman. The holographic woman then spoke to us, and got us to do a series of unfamiliar movements in the reclining position. Later on in the dream, I found myself standing in a corner of the studio where the workshop was taking place, feeling a little cheated out of the workshop (Gosh, Kino, I didn't pay all this money to be entertained by your silly holographic monkey tricks!). I tried to do the primary series, but found that I had become so fat/bloated that I could barely even get into Trikonasana! (Well, there's actually a biological explanation for this one: I ate 3 slices of pizza before I went to bed last night).
But all this is neither here nor there. Like you would care about the content of my dreams (Am I becoming a Kino groupie, by the way? I'm even dreaming about taking her workshop...). Anyway, here's what Kino has to say about the seeming paradox of achievement in the asana practice. I suppose some skepticism on your part may be inevitable ("Come on, you're Kino MacGregor. It's easy for you to say this"), but if we try to put this skepticism aside, I think what she says is very true and wise:
"Along the road to the realization of impossible postures yoga teaches us that the real impossibility we strive towards is no mere physical form, but is a state of inner peace that is completely imperturbable. The consciousness of eternal peace is the classically paradoxical comprehension that the real goal is in essence the journey itself. In order to “get” anywhere along the lifelong spiritual path of yoga one of the most basic lessons is to realize there is nowhere really to go. This letting go is the release of attachment and desire that leads to a truly peaceful state of mind... You will know that your happiness is not dependent of the achievement of the outcome and therefore be truly happy.
Once your self-worth is separated from the outcome of your actions you win your freedom from emotionality blurring your integrity along the way. Yoga asks you to learn that who you are is grander, larger and more connected than you ever dreamed and that you are only yourself when you rest in this higher awareness. When you remain non-attached to the results of your actions you also have more space to think through the process with clarity and be open to the solution when it presents itself. The greatest teaching of yoga is also the greatest paradox of life. If you want something so badly that it makes you a lesser person for wanting it you will also hold yourself apart from your goal by the very intensity of your desire. At the same time you must commit yourself fully to any process in order to get the results you want. Solving the riddle of just how much effort, luck, openness, thoughtfulness and perseverance to put in is the mystery of life. Yoga teaches you how to walk this thin red line between belief and impossibility, goals and attachment and temporality and eternity with grace and ease. Thus, by doing yoga you also learn how to master the game of life."