Right now, patience is a valuable practice for me. Yoga helps us see patience differently from how we've been raised; for me, patience was treated as a means to a reward, and as a child, that just meant not being a pain in the butt asking you parents every ten minutes 'are we there yet? or can we open presents yet?'. It was rooted entirely in the passage of time. I apparently was a very patient kid, since I could sit for hours gluing popsicle sticks into towers. But nobody dared get in my way, or else they'd witness an eight-year-old with the temper of a honey-badger. I wasn't patient. I was focused, and often compulsive.
Now, I'm starting to see more dimensions to patience. The beauty of patience is that it has relaxation, dedication, optimism, detachment and discovery all wrapped up in one. I'm not one to coddle myself or my students, but I will make daily reminders to be patient, which at times can bring up frustrating anxiety that we've learned to associate with that word. Patience has baggage; when we're told to be patient, we're being told to invoke something that may not be helpful, or we may see it as a free pass. As adults, we need to learn what patience really means.
I attended the Asia Yoga conference a few weeks back, where yogis from all over the world descend upon the hot stickiness of Hong Kong summer to meet, share practice techniques, buy ohm t-shirts and try to sit straighter than each other for three days. I assisted Master Sudhakar for his sessions, and at the end of the sequence, he said, "let's have a yoga demo!" (another conference perk and oddity). On stage appeared a young indian woman who, at the calls of not just posture names but entire sanskrit phrases, proceeded to twist and fold until her own shadow disappeared. Her hair detached from her scalp and then promptly re-attached. Her eyes moved in opposite directions. Anyway, after head-shaking applause, Master Sudhakar asked if there were questions. A North American boldly asked, "if we're meant to be okay with our own level and respect our limitations, why have we just been shown this?". He calmly and immediately replied, "To humble you. She has been working on this for years." Ah. Instantly, what many had seen as a circus side-show was now a significant, very clearly illustrated point: patience is not about complacency. The woman on stage did not bow after her demo, she did not smile, and in fact she had been told she made mistakes. She is on a long, dedicated journey, and we were given a brief insight into her path. The 'demo' was more than what we had witnessed; it was also an opportunity for us to think about our reaction to what we had seen and to place that into the context of our own journey. We know that transformation and growth are crucial to our health. Yet, We live in a world of before-and-after shots where there is no insight into the patience that is required along the way for anything significant to be accomplished.
A simpler example:
At a dinner party recently, a friend mentioned she had been having trouble sleeping, and asked if yoga could help. Of course! I started to say, and then stopped. Be patient! Find out more! "What do you think is keeping you up?"
"Well," she said, "my head is spinning with thoughts, and I get worried that I won't have enough rest for tomorrow, so I give myself until 2am, then take a valium if I haven't fallen asleep yet. Even then, I'm usually still so tired the next day that I need to take a nap in the afternoon."
"Put the clock away. Stop taking valium. Don't take a nap."
Blank stare. "But I need the sleep so I can function. Isn't there some muscle thing I can do to help me fall asleep?"
"Like a Vulcan sleep-pinch? That's what the valium is doing. It will take a while to fix this, but you'll fix it." That's all I could say. Of course yoga could help, and patience with her own body and mind was how. But I didn't dare say 'be patient' as her yoga solution. That was in such direct opposition to her expectations for a posture answer that I might as well have told her to pray. I myself was in the midst of a vacation from yoga; I wanted to see how my practice would be affected if I didn't do it for a few days. This was also a good way for me to explore patience while managing the compulsion to practice yoga blindly.
I hope she's sleeping better now. I hope the Indian woman catches a glimpse of her nape. I hope to one day build a yoga studio with popsicle sticks.