Yoga Horses

Attended a yoga class recently… felt the distance between where my body is, and where it might be, felt the strength we might enjoy enjoy together… the stature of posture that might carry daily life better… the wonderful ache of core muscles noticed and challenged.

“I’ll never forget this again or let it go” I thought, even days after.

Weeks ago.


On the night of the class, the teacher had led into the session with a simple shamatha meditation. This was the part I thought I had covered, certainly the part I have had more consistent experience with. And yet, I couldn’t sit right nor comfortably. Everything was wrong with my shoulders, my back. Tailbone hurt immediately. Never mind the rest of class, which consisted of too much ‘downward dog’ for someone with my woefully minimal upper body power.

I had been away longer than I thought.

Although not fidgeting outwardly, I did experience significant confusion within when the teacher came from behind to make adjustments. It was embarrassing for no reason. Then, the embarrassment was embarrassing. After all, that’s why one works with a teacher and comes to a class: correction and accountability, even scrutiny! A yoga setting is one in which enhanced collective awareness is operating – where ‘group’ becomes another entity altogether: a network of whole-body eyes peering into each other below the surface, no matter how trendy your outfit. Privacy is subdued, so-called imperfections amplified.

However, this is the discomfort that makes the promise of change directly realizable.

I’ve been a meditator for a while by now. Depending on where one counts from, and whether more traditional prayer is included, it is either eight years or thirty. The problem is, I haven’t started practicing. Diligently, even obsessively, I have studied, read sutras and stories, built up and torn down sitting practices, dream yoga, tong len, mantras, deity visualizations, service. But I’ve done all that with a secret view of being, in Suzuki Roshi’s terms, a pretty good horse… not “the best horse” but far from the worst.

What I realized today is something I’ve realized before and quickly forgotten: I am the worst horse, because I think I am not so bad. Practice reveals.

“In the zazen posture, your mind and body have, great power to accept things as they are, whether agreeable or disagreeable.

In our scriptures (Samyuktagama Sutra, volume 33), it is said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good ones, poor ones, and bad ones. The best horse will run slow and fast, right and left, at the driver’s will, before it sees the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as the first one does, just before the whip reaches its skin; the third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones. You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to learn how to run!”

-from Zen Mind Beginners Mind.


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