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January 2014 - Yoga and Your Itinerary

Dear Yoga Friends,

My family spent eight days traveling over the holidays. We were fortunate to find some pleasant weather in southern California, which is especially lucky given the negative double-digit temperatures arising from the polar vortex that happens to be visiting other parts of the country right now. This was one of those trips where we set off with few plans other than we'll stay in one place for 5 days and somewhere else for 3 days. Our accommodations were not spacious, and I found it challenging but still worthwhile to carve out the 3' x 7' floor area for my practice. We had fun outside, foraging for eating establishments, and playing ridiculously complicated board games.

Upon our return, my daughter made an interesting observation. She commented that when you plan a trip by compiling a list of things to do, e.g., via online research, and then go about systematically seeing those sites or doing those activities, checking them off or chalking them up as an "attained experience", it doesn't feel very satisfying. She said, "I'd like to take a trip where I just go somewhere and then figure out what to do next based on what I see there." Of course hearing this warmed my heart, and I could barely stop my head from nodding so that we could continue the conversation.

What does this have to do with yoga practice? Everything. You can write down a list or sequence of poses and dutifully run through them. But making it a routine strips the life, in fact the yoga, from your actions. Yes, we sometimes have to force ourselves through a few poses to overcome inertia, but the real practice begins when we treat the poses and ourselves as a kind of landscape that we are exploring and learning about, open to what we find and what comes up. That's what keeps me coming back to my practice, even on days when I honestly don't feel like doing that first pose.

In his book Core of the Yoga Sutras, B.K.S. Iyengar writes:

The paths for enlightenment are said to be karma, jnana, bhakti, and yoga. Whatever path is chosen, if one follows it with religious skillful attention, and without allowing even the smallest interruption in the flow of awareness, one will reach the state where the wheel of birth and death ceases to move. This is illumination or emancipation or liberation.

Does this have anything to do with your travel itinerary? I think so. In a general sense, he is saying that what is important is not the path or the steps, but the quality of attention that we bring to the journey. In yoga philosophy, karma (action), jnana (knowledge), bhakti (devotion), and yoga (union), each represent a valid path. I currently don't believe in reincarnation as it is typically conceived, but I do see it as a valuable and beautiful metaphor for life's important cyclical processes. One example is the cycle of gratification, or maybe we can call it the "itinerary of gratification", in which something pleases the senses and the mind goes off on repeated missions to recreate the pleasurable experience, leaving little room for genuine freedom.

I look forward to seeing you soon on the road!



Chad Balch