The Simplicity of Practice
With a satisfying flick, I unroll my faded black yoga mat. Not the new red and gold one that has the arrow ending in a heart pointing to the top of the mat. That lovely mat is rolled up in a corner, looking pretty. It was my birthday present to myself last year.
Every year, I make the effort to buy myself something that really makes my heart sing. Last year it was the yoga mat, the year before that it was a spiky Shakti Mat – the ones that imitate lying on a bed of nails. The year before that it was an overpriced but beautifully decorated pink notebook, with orange, green and light blue flowers and circles on the cover. It’s a happy notebook.
The yoga mat was also expensive, and even though it, too, is beautiful, it’s not sticky enough. After the first few sun salutations start producing little beads of sweat, my hands inevitably slide up to the top of the mat along two invisible lines on either side of the golden arrow during every downward dog for the remainder of the practice.
A few weeks ago, I attended an Ashtanga Yoga class in town. There’s not much to say about the class, unfortunately, because I can count to five by myself.
As uninspiring as the class was, or, to be fair, as uninspiring as the teacher was, (because some of their other classes were better) their sticky mats were super. So sticky, in fact, that as I lowered myself down in the first chaturanga of many, and slowly pulled my heart forward through the gate of my arms into upward dog, I nearly left my pants behind. Instead of feeling expansive as I opened my heart, I felt more like a snake literally shedding its skin. I also stayed in the downward dog without sliding along my mat, which was a novel experience.
After class, I cornered the teacher.
‘Do you sell yoga mats?’ I asked.
‘Yes, they’re out front. I’ll show you,’ she said, which was the most words she’d spoken, other than counting to five, for the last hour.
When I saw the mats, I realised they were selling the same brand as the one I have at home – my lovely, but not very useful, red and gold one. I shook my head.
‘No, I want one of those super sticky ones that we used in class,’ I said.
‘Oh.’ She seemed confused that I didn’t want the lovely branded ones on the shelf but rather a plain, monotone one (black on one side, less black on the other side). ‘We sell the ones that we used at the studio, but only second hand. They’ve been used by meditation students only, so they’re pretty clean.’
I didn’t care if they were second hand. ‘But are they still sticky?’
She nodded, pulled one out of a discarded heap at the back of store cupboard, and handed it to me. It was exactly the same, leave-your-pants-behind kind of sticky mat that I had used in class a few minutes ago.
‘Perfect,’ I said.
‘Are you sure you don’t want to try out the new ones? They’re textured and come in a range of trendy colours and designs. Very popular.’
‘No thanks, this is perfect,’ I said, patting the plain black, used and discarded mat tucked under my arm. (It was also a quarter of the price of the new one.)
I paid and left, knowing I would probably never do one of her classes again, but glad to have found my perfect yoga mat.
As a writer, I’m equally passionate about notebooks as I am about a good, sticky yoga mat. I’ve been through many of them. Pretty ones, plain ones, cheap ones and expensive ones. Some with a sturdy hard cover, some with a soft, flexible one. A ring bound spine, a glued spine, a hand made notebook from a friend trying out a new potential hobby.
The pretty pink one that I bought myself for my birthday two years ago, the one with the colourful flowers and circles on the cover, lies on my desk next to me, somewhere underneath Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg and a copy of the Tao te Ching.
In the two years since I’ve bought it, I’ve written only on the first five or six pages. It was an expensive notebook, from a popular stationer, but, like my trendy yoga mat, it’s not very useful. The pages are too thin. It’s not ring bound, it’s A4 size and the cover is hard. It makes writing awkward, having to be at a certain angle to accommodate the hardcover. It just doesn't feel right, and every time I open it, my writing urge disappears.
The bookshelf in my bedroom, a simple white one that fits neatly into the enclave that used to be a fireplace (back in the day when this house was a one-bedroomed bach by the sea) is filled with piles of notebooks. A variety, for sure, but mostly simple red and white, soft covered, spiral bound A5 notebooks with 80 pages. The cheap, standard ones that I can afford regardless of how many yoga classes I'm teaching.
I love these simple, functional notebooks, and I love my second-hand, super sticky yoga mat. Simplicity is one of the beautiful aspects that yoga and writing share. When it comes to down it, all I need is myself, a willingness to practice and a few basic tools. No trendy embellishments – just me and the practice.
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