A year and a half ago I visited the Thiksey Monastery in the Himalayas as part of
Nikki Costello’s led retreat. Each day our group had the opportunity to meditate along with the monks’ early morning chanting in the main prayer hall and bathe in the vibrations.
One day during meditation, I had the sensation of my whole body on fire. People sitting next to me said they felt the radiating heat as well. At first I thought it was just a hot flash but, it had a distinctly different quality. I literally “felt the burn.”
After the session, I told Stanzin, one of our host monks, about this fire. He looked at me, smiled a little and said “oh, you were just burning off karma.” I was blown away. Somehow I was able to retain my composure and go back to meditating the next day. And guess what? Nothing big happened. Just a regular sit.
Enormous sensations like the burning in Ladakh don’t happen often. The really big ones I’ve had after 16 years of daily practice can be counted on the fingers of one hand. More often “progress” is revealed in very slow and small measurements; millimeters or milliseconds. I can exhale to a slightly longer count then I could 4 years ago. In Warrior II my bent thigh is more parallel to the ground now than when I first took the asana. I can meditate for 30 minutes today vs. three anxiety laden ones when I began 10 years ago. Most importantly I pause now before getting angry and losing my temper. I also grasp a little less tightly at things I desire.
The other day a student asked me to teach a class where students learned to put their legs behind their heads. For the fun of it, I gave them two preparatory postures and none of the students could take them with steadiness and ease. I told them that when they could do those two asana I would teach them more. Perhaps if they practice those with clarity and non-attachment every day for 12 years we will be able to take the more “advanced” pose.
Dozens of students start to practice yoga every new year. They get excited by newspaper and magazine articles that promise shapelier bodies, better sex and renewed health. Or, they’ve been attracted to Instagram shots of beautiful beings on blissful beaches. They believe mindfulness techniques will make them instantly smarter at their jobs and kinder in their interpersonal relationships. Some of them even believe that they will achieve immortality, the melding of the individual with the universal, in 21 days.
I worry about these goals. They’re not a stable foundation for a sustained easeful practice.
In my experience the process of yoga has been slow and steady…tortoise-like some would say. I like it this way. So when a big event comes in I don’t get scorched, I’m ready to hold its potency and let it propel me to the next phase of practice; not worrying about when it will happen again and having faith that it will.