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July 2011 Breaking the Routine

Dear Yoga Friends,

I returned two days ago from two weeks in Panama with my family. Our travels took us from the intensity of Panama City to remote grass huts on a Caribbean archipelago to a mountain village ringed by rain-forested remnants of a volcanic crater to a broad Pacific coast beach and back to Panama City where skyscrapers, bustling business, pulsating night life, poverty, jungles, and 500-year-old ruins all coexist.

On this trip we shared many fun and culturally-enriching experiences, new sights, different foods, and of course, lest we become too romantic, the usual disagreements, losses of patience, and undesirable food reactions that go along with this sort of trip. All this aside, I believe the value of a vacation lies in breaking our routines. However hard we try to keep things fresh at home, routines and cycles inevitably take root. Much routine has value by providing efficiency and security. But despite this value, the accompanying limitations may not always serve us.

Yoga, with its sequencing of poses, instructions, familiar sensations, menu of asanas, and class structure, can also become a routine. But when yoga practice becomes mechanical, regardless of good intentions, the life goes out of it. It reduces to mere physical exercise and can even become harmful. In yoga philosophy, attachment (raga) is one of the five major obstacles (klesas). We create routines, both in yoga practice and in life, and become attached to them. But yoga, rather than being about enforcing some sort of austere regimen, needs to be about exploration, facing fear, discovery, and letting go. For me, Iyengar yoga has the exquisite property of providing the structure to support this.

Yoga practice on the road brings its own challenges, and it is often not possible to practice as at home. We are presented with location transitions, more frequent interruptions, uneven surfaces, dirty conditions, etc. To practice requires adaptability in choice of asanas, creative use of what props may be around, and flexibility with respect to time of day and duration of practice. But doing some yoga every day never fails to bring about a sense of centeredness, connectedness, and well-being. Returning home, I am grateful to be able to practice in a more consistent manner, but now with a renewed commitment to be creative.

When I travel, and I consider myself fortunate to be able to do so, I enjoy elements of the unknown, inquiry, and even risk. This trip reminded me that I also need all of this in yoga.





Chad Balch