On the Permanence of Impermanence

Something I find myself saying quite often to my yoga students these days: Slow down. Time your motion to your breath, and move serenely and unhurriedly, savoring the sensation of movement itself.

Why I need to make this reminder so frequently is that many yoga students believe that the objective of the practice is to get into the pose—that it’s about accelerating the transitions so that one can spend the maximum amount of time in the posture itself. But in yoga, just as in life, the fluidity of the transitions (or vinyasas) matter just as much as the steadiness of the forms (or asanas), because it is the transitions, precisely, that remind us that everything is impermanent, that forms or poses can only be held so long, that transience is the one unyielding and implacable constant of life.

So if impermanence is the one thing we can’t avoid (as much as we resist the fact), we might as well learn how to live with it gracefully and well. And in yoga, that skill is learned in the slow (almost reverential) raising of the arms, the gradual descent of the torso, the leisurely lift of the chest, and the rest of the entire sequence that constitutes the sun salutation or Surya Namaskara. This sequence and its many variations, so basic to the practice of yoga (basic to the point of being almost pedestrian), has only one held pose. The rest of it happens as a fluid and serene dance that follows the rhythm of life itself—the rhythm of the breath.

So I tell my students: Enjoy the movement. The intervals matter. The transitions matter. At the end of the day, they’re really all we have.


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