Off the Mat - Living Your Practice
Witnessing a body with years of intense asana practice is inspiring as it folds, unfolds and binds with ease and grace.
After 20 years of practice, I still awe at effortlessly wrapped legs around other body parts. Bodies have such amazing capabilities.
Buddhist monks, sadhus, my own father, fill me with inspiration at daily hours spent on meditation cushions, in stillness.
Of course, I too have passed many hours honouring my practice on the mat, in stillness, chanting, reading books of spiritual guidance.
However, the question arises in me: “what about off the mat?
Yoga = Union. Including the union of practice and the world outside the shala/temple/mat. If true yoga happens in every moment, then intention should be to “live” this yoga, this practice, awareness. Many of my hours have dwelled in this investigation.
People invade my space. Unexpected mishaps frustrate. Bank charges, stubbed toes, overflowing inbox, bad hair days. I count to 10. Exhale. Question to self “what would the Buddha do? Krishna? Dad? Anyone?”
Fortunately the universe dropped me into a situation that showed me exactly how my practice jumps off the mat and into everyday life like a comic book hero, waiting in the wings, putting skills to use for the better of mankind.
I stood on a side street off a busy area of Los Angeles. Having just left a blissful dance class, I was chatting with my friend, Jo. A sunny afternoon, happy to reconnect after a long absence.
What Jo saw behind me appeared to be a man approaching with magazines to sell. Nothing to cause concern, but what happened next was shocking. The moment, relived in my mind, still seems unreal.
Mid sentence my body is suddenly flying into the street, down to the ground. A hard ball or something collided with my head, right? I searched the ground for the offending object, listening for boys shouting for their ball back. Instead I hear Jo, distressed, telling someone to “back off”.
As I look behind me I see a very large man, with large hands (one of them being said offending object that whacked me to the ground) and an anxious, distant look in his eyes.
Before I had a chance to blink, think, feel anger or fear, yoga happened.
Our eyes met fleetingly and in an instant I knew. This man needs help. Acting out some emerging fear or anger, I was the first canvas he came upon to express himself .
I am the perfect victim. No need to respond. My only feeling, concern for his well being.
As Jo helped me to the curb, my perpetrator starts walking quickly down the street.
The universe likes comic relief in my life. I noticed four Hare Krishna’s running down the road after him, reminding myself of the large Krishna temple next door.
Jo is concerned, the Hare Krishna’s are concerned. And while my ear drum could easily be ruptured, I know it’s fine. I’m fine.
This had nothing to do with me. It was never about me. I turn to Jo and say “Wasn’t that interesting?”
We discuss Karmic delivery for a few moments. Jo delivers some hands on healing. We sit on the side of the road with a reason to hang out. A shared event. A perfect moment spent being present, with a friend. Neither of us label the experience.
This is the practice. This is my yoga. And I’m not even trying to touch my toes.
These thoughts don’t sink in until much later as I look back and realize how traumatic the incident would be for most people and even my younger self.
The great ending to this story is that I left before the police arrived. Not what one would usually consider to be a “good” thing.
But, as happened the Hare Krishna’s had called the police and apprehended the man. Jo was still on the scene when an officer arrived and asked what had happened to me. Being reassured I was fine and had no intention to press charges the officer explained an interesting policy in effect.
If the victim presses charges, the police have to detain the man, lock him up as any other criminal, await bail, legal help, etc.
However, if the police are merely picking him up because he is suspected to be suffering some mental illness, he is taken for assessment in a psychiatric facility where helping him with his condition is the aim.
I drove home, to my father with his million plus hours of meditation clocked up, and felt blessed for this life.