I have been practising yoga for some time now, beginning with Ashtanga before switching to Iyengar, which suits me better.
There was a time when I couldn’t make the simple statement ‘I practice yoga’ without following it up immediately with what I felt was an important admission ‘-but I’m useless at it.’ However, as I’ve explored the subject more deeply, both experientially, and through reading, I’ve come to understand that any such comment about one’s practice actually misses the point.
Yoga is multi-layered, and among many other things it is a mindfulness practice. A generally accepted definition of mindfulness is ‘Paying attention to the present moment deliberately and non-judgmentally.’ If we make judgments such as ‘I’m useless at it,’ or conversely ‘and you should see my head stand,’ our practice, by definition, isn’t mindful.
Removing the element of judgement isn’t the same as abandoning an ambition to attain or hold a particular pose. It is the more simple acceptance of being where we are, right now, without the usual inner commentary. Or in the words of Michael Stone, author of the wonderful The Inner Tradition of Yoga, ‘Waking up is not an improvement of reality but rather direct contact with it.’
In The Art of Purring, the Dalai Lama sets his beloved feline HHC (His Holiness’s Cat) the task of investigating what makes her purr. It is a universal question. One might say the great leveler, because all of us, regardless of our circumstances, want more happiness. During the course of the book, HHC becomes something of a yoga class regular, accompanying Serena Trinci to her evening sessions, sitting at the back of the studio and watching students perform their sun salutations and warrior poses against the spectacular backdrop of the ice-capped Himalayas.
Yoga practitioners will not be surprised to hear that, through her understanding of yoga, HHC gains some important insights into the nature of happiness. One of these being that happiness can only be experienced in the present moment. This may seem an obvious point. But according to a recent survey, about 47% of the time we are not in the present moment – our attention is engaged firmly in narrative mode, and we are thinking about everything apart from what is actually happening. This same survey showed a direct correlation between mindfulness and happiness – even engaged in mundane tasks, if we give them our full attention, we stand a far better chance of happiness than if we don’t.
There is an interesting dynamic in HHC’s relationship with ‘The Downward Dog School of Yoga.’ And some extraordinary revelations about Ludo, the silvering but timeless teacher who runs it. You may say that HHC’s entire understanding of who she is and the nature of happiness is transformed during the course of the book.
I hope that yoga practitioners may find in The Art of Purring some interesting points of reference. Those readers who don’t practice yoga – you should see my headstand. I’m completely useless at it! Oops!
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