Ranging out to the edges, returning home. Finding the periphery, finding the center. Rhythm, in time and in space.
Here’s the poet Robert Hass talking about rhythm: “Repetition makes us feel secure and variation makes us feel free.” Too much security and we feel suffocated, too much variation and we feel unmoored and lost. Hass is talking pretty much just about the effects of rhythm in poetry, but we can broaden our thinking to encompass yoga.
Trikonasana has a rhythm in time: you enter the pose, you make little wiggly adjustments, you stay awhile unmoving, then you leave the pose. Trikonasana also has rhythm in space, that is, it has a shape. Within that shape there are dense localities and more spacious areas, dark places and bright places – the pose is not uniformly dense kinesthetically or emotionally, even when there is no movement.
Same thing with a single yoga class or practice session: sometimes it’s repetitive, other times it’s all over the map, you never do the same pose twice. And what you find is that too much of the same monotonous pace deadens the attention, too much variety scatters your focus.
Same thing over the months and years: if your practice stays the same year after year, you have to ask yourself why your practice isn’t keeping pace with your life as you age and grow toward ripeness. But if you change your practice up too much on a daily basis, then you lose the thread, have no continuity.
Again, it’s like ranging out to the edge and then coming back to center: each day the men walk out of the village to find game, each day the women walk out to forage. And at the end of the day, they return home with sustenance. Or it’s like a really good improvisational musician who wanders as far from the basic melody as possible, and yet returns home in a way that surprises and delights us.
We humans want to feel safe and we want to feel free. It’s the dance between the two that is most generative toward a lively wholeness. And while we live, it is an endless dance never brought to stillness.
Here’s another poet, Wallace Stevens:
I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendoes,
The blackbird whistling,
Or just after.