by Sandra Bark
I am writing this edition of Practice Makes Practice from the Mala Yoga retreat in Guatemala, from the shores of Lake Atitlan, where practice makes practice makes practice makes practice. On retreat, all there is is this: yoga and a body of water ringed with volcanos.
Without the distractions of work or deadlines, of organizing plans or managing schedules, of all of the myriad responsibilities that usually fill our days, we just practice and eat, practice and swim, practice and then practice some more. There is time for a glass of wine or an hour of side-splitting laughter, a soak in the hot tub or a simmer in the sauna, and then we practice again.
There are no ex-boyfriends here, no disappointed relatives, no complaining clients, no demanding colleagues. So why is my mat so crowded?
Often in this space, I write about what we take off the mat as practitioners of yoga, about gaining patience and finding gratitude, about developing a greater understanding of our personalities and the shape of our spines. On retreat, I am noticing the opposite: what we bring to the mat with us. If the sacred can creep into the mundane, so can the everyday noise poke its blunt nose into these quiet corners.
Sssssh, I say to the voice emanating from the top left hand corner of my mat, as someone I have already said good-bye to tries to continue a conversation that is done and gone. Sssssh, I say to the project that I will have to complete when I get back home. Memories elbow me in the ribs, jostling for room on my blue mat. Concerns tug at my heels, angling for attention while Angela and Steph talk us through the proper way to transition from chattaranga to up-dog.
At home, it is easier to excuse the intrusions, because they are so close, so commonplace, so comfortable. Here, it is easier to see how intrusive they really are, how loud the clamor of my own mind is. It is clear that if my mat feels crowded with foreign bodies, it is because I have invited them in. It is obvious that it is up to me to take them by the hand and lead them out of the room, closing the door firmly behind me so I can practice in peace.
At home, our calendars are so full that it can be challenging to make room for yoga. On retreat, yoga is the only appointment: the challenge is that my mind is so full. So I whisper to the ghosts when they talk to me.
I tell them that on my mat, at least, there is only room for me.