Here in Vancouver, Canucks fans are thrilled. Their team made the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 17 years. Me? I’m a sporadic and superficial sports watcher. I might half-watch Olympic events, Wimbledon finals, NCAA playoffs, Tour de France stages, hockey games. I might enjoy the drama and athleticism. But I am rather clueless about the actual sports.
Watching a hockey game, I know I’m catching only the gist, barely keeping my eye on the puck. When I moved to Canada, I had to Google “hat trick,” “penalty box,” “power play,” and “Don Cherry.” I can’t recall who won the Cup last year. Plus, I didn’t grow up skating or playing team sports. And I’ve never had to fight for my life.
Unlike those who have played hockey themselves, I am not vicariously experiencing the action. And unlike those who follow the NHL, I know nothing about the coaches or players or teams. I’m only skimming the surface.
Likewise, I am probably only vaguely experiencing pranayama (see here for Yoga Journal‘s summary of six lineages’ approaches to pranayama). I’ve irregularly practiced pranayama over the dozen-plus years that I’ve regularly practiced asana. It is a challenge for me to sit or lie still and even harder to smooth the breath and still the mind.
In Iyengar yoga, taking the physical form of pranayama is the first step. I can lie on an appropriate arrangement of blankets for supine pranayama; I can sit in supported Sukhasana or Virasana for seated pranayama. But after that the practice is very subtle. My teacher says there should be minimal effort—and no ambition—in pranayama. If you try too hard, you tighten the throat and force the breath.
So, I lie or sit there, taking the physical form and watching my inhales and exhales. I am following instructions. I’m not attracting attention or causing a stir. But inside I know that I’m only skimming the surface.
I felt similarly when I tried Zen meditation a while back. I sat on a zafu and zabuton like everyone else at the zendo. I sat for 40 minutes each time. But was my mind still? Who in the room had a still mind anyway? One’s outer form doesn’t necessarily reflect one’s inner state.
If I want to be a savvy hockey spectator, I have my work cut out for me. If I want to go deeper in pranayama, I also must work, regularly but without ambition.
Image: Halfmoon zafu and zabuton