Practice Makes Practice

UP IS DOWN

by Sandra Bark

Up is DownIn my friend Alison’s hallway, the elevator keypad looks official but is an idiot. Up is down, it suggests. Down is up. Clever as a Zen koan, perhaps, but for something functional, it’s just silly.

Consider that the keypad only has one job: to call the elevator. Consider that it only has to convey a simple piece of information: this button takes you up, this button takes you down. And it can’t even do that right.

It’s like living in a proverb. A man with one clock knows what time it is. A man with two clocks never does.

This happens all of the time in our information-rich world. Data is misleading, misinformed, mistaken. Last week, Google told me that the 2 would get me door-to-door. Once I was already on the train, the subway map had a different opinion. How confusing!

A woman with one map knows the way. A woman with two never does.

And how about when we want to get a little further afield? Alison has made her peace with the elevator; now she’s considering travelling for a few months in Africa. Is it safe? The government says no. Friends who have lived there say, sure. Should she believe the elected officials or the personal experiences of a few transplanted locals? How can she resolve her “I want” with the authoritative “Please don’t”?

Up is down. Down is up.

Anyone who has experienced more than one style of yoga is already familiar with the idea that the same practice can offer varying approaches with distinctly different sets of instructions.

Mountain pose. Feet together. Or are they? Should they be hip distance? Do my toes touch? Am I looking for parallel in the inside or the outside lines of my feet?

Straight legs? In a Bikram class, the teacher instructed us to straighten our legs as much as we could. At Mala, my teachers warn of the dangers of hyperextension.

Finishing poses. Ashtanga yogis go shoulder stand before headstand. According to Iyengar, headstand goes first.

So what should we do?

When it comes to my yoga practice, I have teachers I trust enough to sift through the information for me. Who trust me enough to explain that there is more than one way and I should just choose what feels right. So I never have to blame myself for not knowing things I have simply not learned yet.

But when it comes to most things, we are largely on our own. No matter where we’re trying to get to, what we’re trying to grow into—down six flights, up into handstand, or across a continent—conflicting information is inevitable.

On the way to our destinations, we will encounter plenty of data, experts, and opinions. We will feel confused, but we must still make decisions. Which is easier to do once we accept that we are not at fault for feeling confused to begin with.

So here’s to Alison, who is going to Africa. And here’s to Alison’s elevator, which I offer as proof that sometimes, when information makes you feel more confused instead of less, it really isn’t you.

Sandra Bark is a writer who lives in Brooklyn and practices at Mala. PRACTICE MAKES PRACTICE offers a student’s perspective of the yoga experience, on the mat and off.

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2 Responses to Practice Makes Practice

  1. Pingback: Practice Makes Practice | MALA YOGA

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