We come to the studio at the usual, weekly time. We move through the Āsanas, spend a few precious moments in Shavasana (corpse pose), then roll our mats back up, check our cell phones for missed calls or texts during class, and head back out the studio door—back to our cars, our families, our responsibilities, our lives. Between classes each week, we may not think about our practice as any­­thing other than exercise or a workout, as time out from the flurry of busy-ness that is our daily routine, as “me time”—a break from work, partners, kids, spouses. But what if yoga offered more? What if we could experience that “something more” on a regular basis—if it became as much a part of our practice as downward-facing dog, proud-warrior pose, or sun salutations?

We forget all too quickly that there are eight luscious limbs along the yogic path, or Sādhana:[1]

  • Yamas—external disciplines that help clarify our relationships with people and objects
  • Niyamas—internal disciplines that govern our process of coming to realization
  • Ᾱsanas—bodily postures that cultivate deep physical steadiness and effortless meditation
  • Prānāyāma—breath-energy regulation that enables sustained observation and relaxation
  • Pratyāhāra—withdrawal of the senses from external objects as they turn inward
  • Dhāranā—concentration upon a single object or field
  • Dhyāna—absorption of all mental formations upon an object/field
  • Samādhi—sustained integration of subject, object and perceiving itself

So how can we even find time to explore these limbs with our already-overwhelming schedules? We already have to-do lists that will not quit; that become longer far more often than they dwindle. I am a doctoral student, a part-time teacher, a volunteer. I am a best-friend, a daughter, a sister. I walk and practice yoga āsanas, daily. I prepare and eat meals of local, organic foods. My life is abundant. It is also precarious, like the quivering surface tension of water in a glass past-full—at any moment, threatening to spill under the slightest movement.

I am searching for ways to live more sustainably, to live abundantly yet also with space to slip, to spill, to dance in ways that don’t create wreckage either in my spirit or in my interactions with others. Yes, my yoga practice helps me pause and surrender to the moment. But perhaps āsanas only play one part in the story.

Last Saturday night, during the Shantala Kirtan at Main Street Yoga’s Washington Street studio, I found myself opening to this possibility. I may not even have gone, but a friend generously offered her to ticket to me when something else came up for her Saturday night. So, around seven o’clock, I stepped into the studio, removed my shoes, and found a space on the floor among a sea of local yogis, all ages represented. They sat cross-legged on their mats, chatting with friends, their faces beaming with anticipation (see Debra Risberg’s photo of the crowd). Clearly, they felt at home.

I, on the other hand, could not quite settle in. I worried about sitting in one place for hour after hour of chanting, of allowing myself to be there when piles of papers and books awaited me back home.

Restless, I got up to find a bolster. Instead, I found Heather Wertheimer (Shantala’s female vocalist and instrumentalist) in a quiet corner—her eyes gently closed, her hands poised in shuni mudra as she sat in lotus position, meditating before the kirtan began. Stillness and calm amidst all that buzz of social energy, and just before she performed for this eager crowd. How often, I wondered, do we pause? How often do we allow ourselves time to turn inward even when there are things left undone; when the world whirls around us; when people and places and things are waiting for us, expecting us, insisting we arrive sooner or stay longer? Not often enough. On my coffee table sits a framed picture of two chairs by a still autumn lake, the trees on the opposite shore, shedding their leaves. Beneath the photo, “Even when some things are left undone, everyone needs to take time to sit and watch the leaves turn.” My Al-Anon sponsor gave this to me several years back. I look at it every day, yet the message still confounds me…

To be continued…

[1] Although several yogic texts define and describe the “Eight Limbs of Yoga,” I use Chip Hartranft’s in The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali (2003) in my description here.