My first yoga teacher was a thin book from Jareer. It had all the pictures, though it was not very motivating to keep flipping pages between asanas. I practiced for 2-3 weeks and then, khalas, the loneliness of doing something as unnatural as taking orders from a book bit me and I dropped it.
Four years ago, I had Sue as my housemate. She was an avid yoga practitioner and teacher. She still is. And the next book, Light on Yoga, was her gift to my practice.
Nevertheless, when she left Indonesia, and I moved into the Timekeeper's house, the loneliness got on me again. The timekeeper's silence added to the not-doing-anything-else depressed me. After a year of struggling, I couldn't stand the silence and dropped yoga. I figured, I was doing fine without the added sadness, so why tip the fragile balance?
Last year's long process of renewing my Saudi passport and Indonesian residence permit brought one of the most awful kinds of silence. The kind found in overcrowded waiting lounges; where you and everybody there are waiting for The News to arrive.
That is when I just had to invoke the deep silence in yoga. And maybe the Gods of Yoga felt pity for me that they gave me the chance to attend David Swenson's workshop and introduced vinyasa: practice flow.
While vipassana meditation brought the silence by halting everything, vinyasa brings the silence by moving. Like the silence you hear when you're sprinting: you can't think in words, and the only thing you can do is concentrate on your breath and the steps ahead of you. That is vinyasa's version of silence.
Living in the Timekeeper's house while having everything provided for, is another kind of loneliness. It is occasionally rippled with meals or trips out of town, but generally the silence is constant. I thought that taking a meditation course and practicing vipassana could fix my issues with noise/silence.
You know how that went. I loved the silence. There are things that only the silence can teach, if you can understand its language and not run from its dark and intimidating depth. Or die.
Sometimes I see that the Timekeeper as the embodiment of silent practice. His life is semi-automatically sequenced, from vipassana to vinyasa to vipassana again. It does not bother him, whether in vipassana state or vinyasa. He does not question his practice, job or God because he just accepts and does what is expected of him.
How does someone grow that kind of courage and faith in his practice? Genetics?
I once asked the Timekeeper if I need to find a steady yoga teacher, a security net against de-motivating loneliness. He said that vigilant practice is the best teacher.
Another yoga teacher suggested a sparring partner. Someone to make the practice feel less monotonous. Kind of like group worship in mosques and churches. It does not deepen the quality of our practice, but peer pressure can get us going.
The last yoga teacher I sat with over coffee said that teachers can only offer glimpses of their own practice. The rest if up to the student whether they want to learn and apply their lessons or not.
I wonder if the Prophet Muhammad knew this last bit when he said, "اليوم أكملت لكم دينكم I have done my job at teaching your religion…now it's up to you."
Update 2012: I got certified in as a Hatha Yoga Teacher. It didn’t just help me feel more confident in teaching with minimal intrusion to a student’s practice, it actually made me a better masseuse from knowing how the human body works.