A few Sundays ago, I settled in for a pleasant 90-minute home practice: a half hour of vigorous asana, another half hour of mellow floor work, and then a half hour of seated meditation. It was a well-rounded program that I’d sketched out myself. I looked forward to an excellent prana-filled afternoon.
I’d barely started my second sun salutation when my wife came through the door.
“I’m heading out,” she said.
“OK,” I said, on the exhale.
“I put the chicken in the oven.”
“I need you to keep an eye on it.”
“The timer is going to go off in an hour.”
I couldn’t exactly say, “But I’m still going to be doing yoga in an hour.” After more than a decade of practice, I've learned that saying “I’m doing yoga” doesn’t get me out of anything. It certainly doesn’t allow me to evade responsibility when supper is in progress.
I couldn’t exactly say, “But I’m still going to be doing yoga in an hour.”
“So you’ll check on it, right?” she said.
“Yes, yes,” I said.
All right, I thought. I still have an hour. You can get a lot of yoga done in an hour. Often, 15 minutes is enough to get me through the day.
And 15 minutes is the exact amount of time that passed before the carbon monoxide detector went off in the hallway. I was somewhere between extended side angle and half moon when I heard: SQUONK! SQUONK! SQUONK!
From the other room, my 11-year-old son shouted, “Dad! Daaaaaaaad!”
I left the mat as mellowly as possible. The detector was making a horrible noise. My son was in his bedroom, holding his ears, screaming, “I can’t take it anymore!”
There didn’t seem to be a fire in the house, just a little smoke coming out of the oven. I looked inside. Nothing was burning—it probably needed to be cleaned. I went to the detector, pressed a button, and it stopped.
Disaster averted, I went back to my mat and moved into half moon.
SQUONK! SQUONK! SQUONK!
“Stop it, dad! Stop it!” my son screamed. He doesn’t like loudness, unless he’s the one being loud.
The hallway was starting to fill with smoke. My façade of yogic calm evaporated.
“Leave the house!” I said. “Now! Now! Evacuate! Evacuate!”
My son ran into the backyard, panicked more by my reaction than the situation. But I was in emergency mode now, even if this wasn’t an actual emergency.
I opened all the windows, the front door, the back door, and the patio door. The alarm screamed on. I went back to my mat anyway. It wasn’t exactly relaxing.
Fifteen minutes later, the chicken was done. A couple minutes after that, the detector stopped its caterwauling. My son went back to doing whatever it was he’d been doing. Order and majesty had been returned to the household. Then my elderly dog walked into my office and urinated on the floor. Clearly, I had a lesson to learn.
We’re taught that yoga is best practiced in reverent silence. And there’s certainly something to carving out special time, every day, to center the mind and ease the body’s aches and pains. It’s essential. But our mundane daily lives are full of disorder. Sometimes you’re going to have to practice among the dirty laundry, while the children are screaming, while the pets are expectorating, while ambulance sirens wail or leaf blowers drone outside, even while the smoke detector is going off. And that’s just in our little atomized realities.
All the collective goodness that yoga has generated over the eons hasn’t stopped war, or violence, or cruelty, or greed, or poverty, or any of the other many ills that plague humanity and the planet. Personal lives fall apart. People get sick, get old, and die. All that stillness we create in our practice doesn’t prevent chaos. It doesn’t even come close.
The goal of yoga isn’t to execute a perfect bakasana or to flip into a handstand beside a mountain lake. It’s about finding some degree of stillness inside the maelstrom. We have to learn to practice where we can, when we can, however we can, and to embrace the distractions and interruptions as part of the process. This is easier said than accomplished, but we’ve all lived long enough to know that more peaceful hours will, inevitably, arrive.
The goal of yoga isn’t to execute a perfect bakasana or to flip into a handstand beside a mountain lake. It’s about finding some degree of stillness inside the maelstrom.
That Sunday, I didn’t have my perfect yoga moment. I’ve felt more awesome in my life. But I still managed to carve out some time, somehow, amidst all the small-scale domestic nonsense. It was enough, because it had to be.
I was maybe 10 minutes further into my routine when my wife returned.
“Could use some help with the groceries,” she said.
I rolled up my mat. Life beckoned. Yoga could wait. Or maybe they were the same thing.