On Sunday I’m going to do something that I haven’t done in a long time. And I’m nervous about it.
I’m playing in a piano recital. In front of about 100 people. Eeek!
I started taking piano lessons earlier this spring. It was the first time I’ve played the piano in more than 20 years!
Despite my current uneasiness about playing in front of a bunch of people, I discovered something I had forgotten. I really, really enjoy playing the piano.
I don’t think I really appreciated it or found it as joyful when I was first learning as a kid. Practice always felt like a chore. I always felt like the piano was just one more thing I was trying to achieve. There were songs to pass, good marks to earn from the adjudicators, a new book or songs at a higher level. You get the idea.
But now that I’m just playing for fun, I get to choose the songs and I find myself really wanting to practice. No surprise that my piano playing has actually improved!
My piano playing saga can help us understand the spirit of abhyāsa.
Abhyāsa means practice, especially a consistent practice, one that is done without interruption or distraction.
I once heard the teacher Richard Rosen say “Abhyasa builds on itself, just as a ball rolling downhill picks up momentum; the more we practice, the more we want to practice, and the faster we reach our destination.”
But wait, you say, I didn’t think we were trying to achieve anything in yoga. Isn’t that what you always tell us?
You know as much as I do that yogis love a paradox.
On one hand, yoga invites us to set intentions for our yoga and setting intentions can admittedly feel like setting goals.
While it’s helpful to have the direction and the prioritizing an intention can provide, yoga ultimately instructs us practice from a place of curiosity and a desire to know ourselves.
And when we practice with a desire to experience the joy in connecting more intimately and completely with ourselves, we improve in more ways than just being able to “do” postures.
There’s a common saying that goes “yoga isn’t about touching your toes; it’s about what you learn on the way down.”
If you have an intention to achieve something or attain something concrete, like being able to balance in tree pose or in crow pose, what is underneath that intention? When you “do” crow pose, what qualities or sensations, what experience does crow pose elicit?
Try reframing your idea about what you are practicing when you do asana on your yoga mat.
Digging at our motivations and ultimately moving towards understanding why we are drawn to certain poses is at the heart of abhyāsa.
In the meantime, despite my impending nerve-wracking piano performance, I’m trying not to forget about the joy I feel when I play. My in-home guru who often appears in the form of my oldest son said to me the other day, “Don’t be nervous mom. It’s like Ghandi and Malcom X say, ‘man’s greatest enemy is fear.’ You are going to be great if you don’t worry so much and just have fun.”
And in case you were wondering, this is the song I’ll be playing though this isn’t me in the video. Wish me luck!