The other day in the car at rush hour, I was stuck at a red light behind a guy in a jeep. His mind clearly wasn’t on the the road. First he vigorously dug around on the floor on both the passenger side and all over the backseat, all while letting his car inch forward bit by bit as cars progressed through the light, barely glancing ahead as he did so. Then he leaned out the window to fix his hair in the side mirror. When the light turned green, he was all ready to move forward, only to throw his hands up in frustration when it changed to red before he made it through the intersection. When he did finally make it through, he stomped on the gas going up the hill… only to have to stop at the next light. Watching him, I couldn’t help but realize that I know I act like that all the time, but how silly it looks to see it! I had a much better experience in traffic that day than the guy in the jeep did, partly because I was entertained and horrified by his antics, and partly because I spent the time practicing patience.
I have always had a really difficult time being patient. As a kid, if I wasn’t good enough at something to do it right the very first time, I just wasn’t interested. Patience? Practice? Nah. Everything to do with reading and books and school came naturally to me, so that’s what I did and that’s what I got better at, and I decided sports were stupid. I could have been good at sports too if I’d wanted to be, if I’d practiced hard, but I wasn’t interested in being patient. I didn’t understand that good things come to those who wait; I wanted good things right now.
Many of the different texts I’ve read so far in yoga teacher training have emphasized being patient, slowing down, using time more mindfully. Mr. Easwaran includes a whole chapter on slowing down in Passage Meditation, because going slower allows us to think through our choices before we decide, helps us remember to be kinder to others. All the pranayama breathing techniques I learned last month emphasize that the breath should be slow and deep and even; the breath and the mind are closely related, so if you slow down the breath, you calm the mind too. Calm minds generally make better decisions, and calm people are often more content.
In the yoga sutras about the yamas and niyamas, we read about asteya (non-stealing), which includes being generous with our time. If we stop rushing around and leave when we need to leave to get to our destination on time, we’re going to have a much more pleasant experience. Don’t be distracted thinking about the next thing, but focus your attention on what’s going on right now. Sometimes what’s going on right now may be boring, but if we’re patient, we may learn something useful.
It’s important, too, to practice patience in yoga class. We can only do what our bodies are able to do that day. Sometimes I can get my leg straight in revolved triangle, and sometimes I can’t. Sometimes I feel strong enough to hold side plank pose comfortably; sometimes, no matter how I modify it, I wobble around. When we see someone demonstrate an exciting new pose, of course we want to try it right away, but our bodies might not be ready for that pose, or it might be hard to get the hang of it on the first try. We have to be mindful of our limits as we practice, be patient with ourselves, and not force our bodies into postures that could harm us. A patient practice is a healthy practice.