The Yoga Teacher As Skunk

Skunk in Backyard Patio

I walk around the yoga room and everyone I come close to kinda freezes, like they’d do if a skunk walked by them unexpectedly.

Breaths and bodies become refined as I patrol the room. They are either happy or relieved if I touch them. But they are always keenly aware that the skunk is watching them.

When I practice by myself or with a video, I miss having a skunk in the room.  The screen teacher is too predictable, and when it’s just me, I won’t spray myself so there’s no risk, no danger. I have no skin in the game. 

When there’s no skunk ominously parading by to snap me to attention, my mind logs off. With no one watching me I become a test pattern: steady but boring. I have no incentive to make subtle refinements in breath or body, and therefore I have no shot at flow.

And getting into flow is the reason I  practice.  

For me, yoga doesn’t mean “to yoke,” it means “to get into flow.” Flow is a mental state so focused, so grounded in the present moment, so locked and loaded into reality, that nothing else matters, nothing else really exists. 

It’s super-hard to pull off. Mostly impossible, unless you’re into extreme sports.  

But if you ever get a taste of it, you want it. All. The. Time.

You want the “yoga” of running, the “yoga” of skiing, the “yoga” of biking, the “yoga” of mountain climbing, the “yoga” of doing the dishes, the “yoga” of folding the laundry, the “yoga” of doing the taxes, walking the dog, changing the litter. 

 That’s why you come into the room with the skunk.  You come because you want to learn how to make the “secret sauce,” the “yoga,” so that you can stir it into everything else you do.

The skunk in the room may not know a single thing about skiing or mountain climbing or federal tax laws, but the skunk knows the recipe for flow. She’ll scare you a little, make you take a risk, and then goad you to stay in that scary place and wallow in it. She’ll encourage you to watch your never ending brain/ biofeedback loop. She’ll cue this “watching” over and over and over.

She’ll tell you, “Stay still, right there, and let yourself marinate in this a while.”

She’ll say,“Breathe fast.” And then she’ll say, “Breathe slowly.” 

She’ll tell you to breathe long, and then tell you to breathe short. She’ll tell you to hold your breath until you practically pass out.  And then, at the last moment, she’ll say, “Breeeeathe.” 

And you will. 

And you’ll start to notice stuff you never saw before: Mental movies will play out in epic grandiosity in your crazy brain; you’re bodily systems will cook, then braise, then saute, and then transform. 

And if you persist at this long enough and eventually learn this exquisite art of attention; if you don’t flake out,….

Flow will show up.

 Right there. 

In the next breath.

  The room will suddenly drop away. And so will the skunk. 

You’ll find yourself there. Calm and focused. Locked and loaded. In the only place you ever wanted to be:


Getting High

I guess it’s a generational thing. I like to get high. I am always on the lookout for anything that takes me out of ordinary reality, ordinary time.

Today, I did a lot of deliberately heavy breathing, which in yoga-speak is called pranyama. I forced air into and out of my nose at a blistering pace for over 2 minutes.

Then I exhaled every scrap of air from my lungs in a big vomit of breath, and held that air out until I thought I was going to pass out.

At the precise moment I thought I would faint, I sucked in a death-denying gulp of breath just in time. I held it inside my lungs until the point of near explosion.

Then I let go.

I floated free of time for the next 20 minutes.

Scary roller-coasters have the same effect on me: I get off and don’t know where I am in space or time.

I can also get sucked down the intellectual rabbit hole through reading and constructing complicated word-things.

I love these “high” states. I love feeling free and unshackled from time.  And it is such a relief to be done with  my complicated little personality and its neurotic quirks for awhile.

So what does this have to do with the Project-Driven Life?

I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.

But soon you’ll be ready to come up with your first Project.

You’re ready now, actually. If you’ve done all the exercises, and have tended a streak for a month or longer,  you now have a pretty good idea who you are, what you stand for, and what you like to do.

From your streak, you’ve proven to yourself that you have the chops to persist, even when the thing that was so sparkly to begin with, is now stale.

The best moments of our lives always come when we’re  pushed to our limits.

The best moments of our lives come when we’re high; when we’re in that state Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow.

Tomorrow I’ll explain more about how to select a good Project, one that has a chance to produce Flow for you, to get you high.