When an Earthquake Can’t Rock the Boat BY Jennie Cohen

The Yoga Sutras devote only three aphorisms—less than 1% of the text—to asana, to posture practice. These three tell us that posture should be stable and easeful, that stability and ease is to be gained by consistent effort, and that practicing postures in this manner brings about “the strength to resist the shocks” of life’s vicissitudes. (I quote here from Charles Johnston’s 1912 translation.)

Truly, we use asana to hone the skill of remaining undisturbed in destabilizing situations. This point was driven home during a recent morning practice in Tokyo. I was holding navasana, boat pose, when suddenly I experienced a physical trembling. My first thought was of sutra I.31: trembling of the body or the breath indicates that a distraction has taken hold in the consciousness. Well that’s nothing new—I get distracted during asana practice all the time. Who doesn’t? But physical trembling so severe it feels like the room is rocking back and forth? Oh, right . . . I’m in Tokyo. This is an aftershock. In a flippant challenge to Mother Nature, I vowed to stay in the pose until the shaking subsided. This could be a matter of seconds or more than a minute. (I’m guessing it was some forty-five seconds or so.)

I can report that body and breath remained fairly even throughout the experience. The mind on the other hand? It was—as usual—beset by a torrential cascade of thoughts and impressions, some relevant to the incident and others seemingly unrelated . . . all while holding a yoga pose for a mere forty-five seconds on the eighth floor of a building during a freaking earthquake.

The idea is that through consistent, effortful practice, the mind too learns to keep its equilibrium despite external circumstances. So that nothing—not even a shaking of the very foundations below us—can rock the proverbial boat.

–by Jennie Cohen, to read more of Jennie’s work or find out where she is teaching, click here

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