I recently spent a few days hiking in Oregon with my oldest son. As we made our way up the side of a mountain, surrounded by huge firs and pines, listening to the rush of water over the rocks below us, I paused to gaze at the cliff opposite us. The sheer rock face loomed up hundreds of feet above my head and extended hundreds of feet more to the river below. I can’t put into words how breathtaking the view was, but I can tell you the thought that passed through my mind at that moment.
This is a perfect moment
A while back I read the book, Chasing Daylight, by Eugene O’Kelly. He wrote about his life after a terminal cancer diagnosis. I’ve written about this before, and I’ll probably write about it again because it has affected the way I interact with the world around me. He talks about perfect moments. Those moments happen all the time, in ordinary, and extraordinary, circumstances. But we tend to only look for them in the extraordinary moments - exotic vacations, romantic dinners, etc. So he exhorts us to find them, and savor them, in ordinary circumstances. A sunset out your back window. A flower growing out of the sidewalk. You get the drift. My moment was an extraordinary experience in a way, because it happened on a trip away from home, in an incredibly beautiful place, but it was a perfect moment all the same.
Then another thought passed through my mind.
This is why I do yoga.
I can get philosophical and talk about how yoga has taught me to slow down and notice the small things, the perfect moments that happen all around me. I can talk about how I’ve developed a deep sense of gratefulness about these perfect moments because of what I’ve learned in yoga. But this is not what I meant. Not in that moment.
Yoga allows me to be physically able to hike the trails I love. Without yoga, I wouldn’t be at this beautiful place. The pain in my body would have been too much. I would have looked longingly at the pictures my son sent me, or I would have lagged way behind, or even had to end the hike early because my body was too tired or hurt too much to keep going.
I came back to this thought, and to this gratitude, over and over again as we passed other hikers. I saw young people who were huffing and puffing, barely able to keep climbing. I saw older people who struggled to clamber over the fallen trees or navigate the ice and snow that still remained on parts of the trail. I also saw young and old, moving faster than me, in better shape. Both sights increased my gratefulness to the practice that allowed me to be there on that day.
Not everyone would find a perfect moment on a hike. Not everyone wants to do that. But I do. I love the outdoors. I love to hike for hours in the wilderness. I love the challenge of finding my way over landslides that have taken out parts of the trail. I love standing at the top of a cliff and seeing for miles around. I love the pounding waterfalls, the soft green moss underfoot, the towering trees. I was introduced to this love by my father, and then I had to watch him give those things up because of the pain that wracked his body. I will never take for granted my ability to move without pain. I will never take yoga for granted.
This is why I practice. Not to achieve poses. Not to be more flexible. Not to advance deeper. Those are extra benefits. I practice so I can do the things I love. I practice so I can move through my world with ease.
Why do you practice? What is that deeper motivation that brings you back to the mat over and over again?