Our yoga class begins the way it always begins with our teacher inviting us to kneel in Table Pose on all fours.
Gently, we breathe in and release our breath, our spines unfolding upward, rounding toward the ceiling, and then dropping down again so that our bellies reach toward the floor.
Ordinarily, these basic poses–Cat and Dog Tilts–provide gentle stretches for the spine, but this morning these poses prove painful because of a sharp twinge that I feel on the outside of my left knee.
The simple act of kneeling feels like I’m pressing my knee into a sharp tack rather than into a soft foam mat. The pain shoots up the left side of my knee so that I have to come out of the pose.
Until this moment, I’ve never given much thought to what’s required to kneel in the pose. Indeed, I’ve taken my knees—and the simple act of kneeling itself—for granted.
Why is it, I wonder, that it often takes the loss of something–something that we usually consider “ordinary” and hardly ever notice–to remind us of what we take for granted?
Loss is only one way for us to become mindful of what we take for granted.
Our yoga practice can also help us discover a new, more mindful perspective of what seems “ordinary” in our lives.
Each pose can help us see time unfolding as a succession of moments, each moment connected to the moment before it and the moment after it.
It’s rare that we see time this way, however. Too often on our mats and in our lives we focus on a goal–a certain number of Sun Salutes, say, or reaching for our toes in Uttanasana (Intense Forward Bend), or staying in Plank for a minute or longer.
Focusing on such goals means there is something in the future that we want to achieve, some far-off destination that we want to reach, or some plan that we are hoping to complete.
We end up focusing on any place but the one where we happen to be right now.
We worry about the past, about what we might have done differently.
We worry about what we should have done.
We are unable to see life unfolding moment-to-moment in front of our eyes.
We end up missing these moments, this moment.
If we use our practice to help us become more mindful of each moment, though, we can learn to see each pose as a sequence of events, or, rather, as a succession of moments.
When seen from this angle or perspective, the final form of the pose doesn’t really matter.
What’s important is not if we can lift our bodies off the mat into Upward-Facing Bow, or whether we have trouble raising our leg to mid-thigh to balance in Tree Pose.
What’s important are the steps that we take along the way which let us move into these poses.
“There is no arriving,” my teacher, Jaye Martin, likes to remind us, “only practice, practice, and more practice.”
How can we avoid the the trap of thinking that the pose itself is the goal, of taking for granted the steps that move us into and then out of the pose?
We can avoid the trap by becoming more mindful, more self-aware, qualities that the process of yoga can bring to our lives if we let it.
In the process of practicing yoga–taking the incremental steps that make up our poses, each step leading to the next–we are able to discover yoga.
And in discovering yoga, we are able to discover what we may have once taken for granted: the power of this one “ordinary” moment.
Practice Journal: Do you take anything–or anyone–in your life or in your yoga practice for granted? Spend a few minutes making a list–it can be as long or as short a list as you’d like to make it–and then write down the things that you may overlook as “ordinary” in your practice and in your life. Write: 10 min.