It is hard to describe the joy I experience after each yoga class with Jaye Martin. For at least three days afterwards I find myself smiling uncontrollably. This is not merely the exhilaration of a challenging physical practice, although it is surely that. Nor is it the calming but alert buzz I feel from an intense moving meditation, although it is surely that too. It is also his uncanny ability to use themes for class that resonate deeply. Themes through which hatha yoga practice becomes a metaphor for all of life. Recently Jaye’s teaching tapped into a memory and life lesson that had been buried within me for decades merging the ancient tradition with which I was raised with my yoga life in a reinvigorating way.
Jaye’s class began in the usual way. He shared his theme with us. The theme was “process”, the notion that the process, the current, present moment is more important, more worthy of focus and intention than the goal. Up to this point we were on familiar ground – certainly to yogis and meditators. But as students of Jaye Martin know well, his themes are never merely the conventional aphorisms you see on new age tee shirts or bumper stickers. And again Jaye did not disappoint. The process of making our asanas more skillful, strong, graceful, more “perfect” rather than the attainment of some quintessential form – like the dazzling Yoga Journal magazine cover photos – the process is the yoga. And then Jaye took even this insight to an infinitely higher plain teaching that the process of moving towards your full expression of a pose is a sacred process, and a process that never ends. Because there is no such thing as ultimate perfection in nature, in the world, there is no perfect pose. For even once you attain a particular technique there is always more. There is deeper, richer, different work to do, and this work, this endless work, is sacred work. For if we were already “perfect” there would be nothing for us to do.
As I sat there in Siddhasana sparks of memory bubbled through me. I was back in my Synagogue listening to our beloved, twinkly eyed Rabbi, expound upon the age old theological conundrum of why God made a world that contained suffering and injustice. Why, Rabbi, we asked, why didn’t God make the world perfect without war or hunger or disease or natural disaster or evil? And I remember the Rabbi delicately merging compassion with intellect as he answered us with the concept of Tikkun Olam, the obligation to make the world a better place. That God made the big round world leaving a sliver of darkness, like a narrow crescent of the moon, leaving the world imperfect so that we human beings would always have work to do. We would always have the sacred obligation to make the world a better place. That the world would never be perfect, if it were we would have nothing more to do. So the process of perfecting the world, in each action we take as compassionate human beings, that process is sacred.
As this memory flooded over me and we proceeded into our sun salutations I felt these ideas physically. With each placement of the ball mount of my foot upon the earth, with each expansion of my chest towards the sky, each movement, each flexion, each breath was now suffused with a reverential level of consciousness and executed with a new spirited precision.
I have come to believe with Jaye’s guidance, that yoga practice is a human metaphor for universal compassion – in any tradition. For just as the sacred work of bringing goodness and concord to the world never ends so does the process of “perfecting” hathayoga. Each class with Jaye Martin is for me a reinvigoration of Tikkun Olam. For each time I come to the mat I recommit to make the world a better place, one asana at a time.
Harriet Roberts – Sarasota, Florida