Nepo likens our journey through life and transformation to being in a canoe. “…If left alone the boat will drift. In stream or river, the current will carry us, but we need from time to time to paddle or row, to steer our way back to where the current is clear and strong… At the center of the stream of life is the unstoppable current of Spirit.”
We are constantly “drifting and steering”. We all know how it feels to struggle against the current- to work hard at things that just aren’t working for us. As well we all know how it feels to drift and how it feels to be carried along; the momentum of grace seems to bouy us up and place us in the best possible stream.
When we have steered our way through enough chaturangas, we develop a lot of strength. When we’ve steered ourselves through Warrior III and Eagle pose enough times, we gain a sense of balance that is much more reliable than when we started learning. It doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why yoga is called a practice. We keep at it, paddling and adjusting our course over time. The body will drift and so will the mind- when we stop steering.
An ongoing yoga practice cultivates a body that finds more ease than discomfort, more strength than weakness and a mind that can access more calm than stress. We experience something we might call our native state of health. Yoga steers us back again and again to that state.
On the mat we steer and stay on course by linking the breath with every movement. The breath is the bridge to mind and body; with a focused mind we cultivate tapas- will, determination and heat. We steer with non-judgment as we recognize that some days we drift more than paddle.
Even as we progress in our practice, the idea that we “arrive” is not really the point- and not really possible if we are truly practicing yoga. The need to keep steering remains, but the feeling that we are being carried happens more often. When we experience being carried it’s nice, but can’t always be expected. Staying present to what the stream and the boat have to offer us in the moment is the real fruit of the voyage.