A few months back, I was doing some yoga reading and came across the idea of having “two wings” to support you in your practice. In the February 2011 issue of Yoga Journal, Stacey Mietus writes about re-learning yoga after a serious injury (page 20). Mietus had been practicing yoga in a competitive way, always trying aggressively to improve her postures, but after hurting her neck she had to find a new approach. She quotes as an inspiration B.K.S. Iyengar, who wrote, “A bird cannot fly with one wing. In the same way, we need the two wings of practice and renunciation to soar.” Mietus had been practicing hard, but to keep herself healthy, she had to learn to balance with renunciation: not comparing herself with others, not judging herself when her body needed to rest. Her injury forced her to back off and take a new, gentler approach; now she strives to practice with both wings to stay balanced.
I read Mietus’s story in Yoga Journal while riding the train home from work. Later that same day, I settled down with the book The Joy of Living by Tibetan Buddhist monk Yongey Mingur Rinpoche for a little bedtime reading, and I was surprised to see Rinpoche bring up the very same idea of flying on two wings! He uses the concept in relation to Buddhist practice and study. The teachings of Buddha are often grouped into two categories: teachings on wisdom, and teachings on practice. Rinpoche tells us that Buddha himself compared these two categories to the wings of a bird, because you need both in order to fly. Without wisdom, you can’t practice properly; without practice, you may be wise but the wisdom does you no good.
Although yoga isn’t a Buddhist practice, Rinpoche’s description of the two wings in Buddhism has much in common with Mietus’s experience with yoga. Rather than putting all her energy into simply practicing hard, she needed to examine her yoga practice and approach it with more wisdom to avoid hurting herself.
Reading about the two wings in two disparate books on the same day really struck me – clearly this is something I ought to be thinking about! I like to practice yoga in a physically challenging way, but unless I am mindful in my practice, my yoga becomes only a workout without satisfying me in a spiritual way. On the other hand, right now my life is so busy that I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about yoga but don’t have much time to actually practice yoga on my mat. I crave both the mindfulness and knowledge as well as the physical practice, and I’m happiest when I have these in balance. Similarly, I often read books like Rinpoche’s about Buddhism, but until I sit down and practice meditation, the knowledge I gain from the book won’t do me any good. The practice and the knowledge go hand in hand.
In our busy world, it’s often difficult to strike a balance. What are the two wings that sustain you, and how do you keep them balanced?