Yoga Practice/Harp Practice

I started a new yoga class three weeks ago. I’ve been looking for one that worked for me since retiring in October.  I finally found a class based on Kripalu yoga, a mindfulness centered yoga style, which I practiced for about five years until my teacher retired several years ago.

Showing up on the mat at her class every Monday night inspired me to keep yoga in my daily routine, just as showing up on my teacher’s harp bench every week keeps me accountable for my harp practice. But without the discipline of a regular class, my yoga practice dwindled to nothing more than the occasional stretch if my back was tight.  The one commitment I made to myself upon retiring was that I would find a yoga class and bring physical mindfulness practice back into my life.

So when I was cruising the new books section of my public library last week, I zoned in on and checked out Freeing the Body, Freeing the Mind: Writings on the Connections Between Yoga and Buddhism (Michael Stone, ed., Boston: Shambhala, 2010.) In the essay “Mindfulness Yoga” by Frank Jude Boccio (p. 160) I read:

Another type of attachment is to opinions, beliefs, and theories. While practicing asana, we may find ourselves attached to ideas about what we “should” be able to do, what we “should” be feeling and the correct form of the asana. We may find ourselves caught in a belief about what we cannot do or what we will “never be able to do.” Again, ideas and opinions are not the issue; it’s the degree of our attachment to them that creates suffering. If we are attached to strong ideas about what we need to be happy and free, the attachment to those very ideas becomes an obstacle to happiness and freedom. We place ourselves in bondage to our ideas and concepts, missing the possibility for happiness and freedom here and now.

Mindfulness shows how one creates a sense of self through reactivity, belief patterns, and dramatizing story lines. . . . The more attached we are to our stories of self, the more tension and suffering we create, but it’s not until we really see this for ourselves that any opening can occur.

Reading this passage, I wondered, “Where has this bit of wisdom slapped me upside the head before?”  Oh yeah, my blog post Zen Harp, Zen Knee, where I wrote: “Being discouraged results from my attachment to some fixed idea of what my ability or expertise or progress should be, instead of just being with, and breathing with, the reality of whatever is, at that moment.”

Somehow, I am able to garner patience and faith and compassion for my hamstrings and hip flexors as they protest moving into a new yoga pose. I accept my current limits of flexibility, knowing that with time and gentle attention and support over the next weeks of yoga practice, muscles and tendons will stretch and release, my strength will develop and increase, and entering and holding the currently difficult poses will become less and less difficult. Somehow, I accept my current limits in yoga without creating a story about why my hamstrings and hip flexors are so tight and why I’ll never be able to do Pigeon Pose. There’s no plot line, there’s just what I can do on the mat today. And sitting with and accepting and having compassion and gratitude for what I can do today removes striving, removes “tension and struggling.”

But with harp…ah, there still is my attachment to the repeated conflict between what I can do today and what I think I “should” be able to do, given the years I’ve spent in lessons. There is my attachment to my beliefs and stories about sight-reading, about shaking hands and performance anxiety. There’s my attachment to the story “I’ll never be able to do. . . .” There is dismay and discouragement and occasionally even despair over what I cannot do, rather than delight with what I can do, with the tunes I can play, with the skills I’ve mastered.

But in those moments of playing while sitting with and accepting and having compassion and gratitude for what I can do today, the stories drop away and music takes their place. I need only that particular moment of doing what I can do today to be “happy and free.” The yoga mat and the harp bench become the same thing, yoga practice and harp practice become one. There is no struggle; there is only grace, present and abiding grace, without and within.