v.9 | On rhythm and chaos.
Join me on March 26 for a workshop on counting in the Ashtanga Vinyasa system. Paying yogafolk subscribers receive a 20% discount. More information below the opening note. And to see this newsletter in all of its shiny, formatted glory, open in your browser.
Clocks are everywhere. We tie jewel-encrusted clocks onto our wrists; we place regal timepieces high up on church towers; we adorn our buildings and train stations with practical ones; and we nearly ubiquitously each have a phone in our pockets, putting time-telling constantly within reach. Somehow these clocks, with all of their measured precision and accuracy, impose a sense of order and control. But every spring and autumn our clocks play a nasty trick and spring forward or fall back, and I’m reminded that time is always in flux. And that timekeeping can be playful and poetic. As Ursula Le Guin writes:
"Rhythm is a physical, material, bodily thing: the drumstick hitting the drumhead, the dancer’s pounding feet. Rhythm is a spiritual thing: the drummer’s ecstasy, the dancer’s joy.”
Those of us with a steady practice - scholarly, musical, physical, artistic or otherwise - know this spiritual nature of rhythm. But rhythm is also corporeal. A consistent rhythm regulates our nervous systems, and puts us in greater harmony with the world around us in the most literal sense.
“My mind wandered about among the world’s beats: the clock, the heart, the interval between the last meal and the next meal, the alternation of day and night….I thought about mechanical, biological, social, and cosmic rhythms; about the interplay of bodily rhythms with social regularities; about the relation of rhythm and order, rhythm and chaos.”
This macro/micro/cosmic interplay is technoscientifically proven: our brains are time machines with natural cycles built into our corporeal, enfleshed selves. We too have seasons and cycles, our hormonal and chemical makeup ebbing and flowing in tune with the outside world. And this predictable rhythm supports homeostasis.
When we’re out of sync, we long to find our back to a steady hum, and we tactically count our way back to attunement: we count sheep when we can’t sleep; we take five breaths when we’re anxious or angry; and those of us Ashtanga practitioners synchronize our breath and movement, counting the vinyāsas to stay centered and focused. Counting is hypnotizing, and regulating. It allows us to return our systems to some sense of order. Perhaps life is just this: a steady, rhythmic, metronomic pulsing.
When: Saturday March 26
What Time: 10-12pm PDT | 5-7pm GMT
How Much: $54 or ￡40 (**Paid subscribers, enjoy 20% off, and make a payment for $43 or ￡32)
The workshop will be recorded and all class materials distributed afterwards, so I encourage you to sign up even if you can’t attend synchronously.
Human heart rates synchronize when we’re co-sleeping, holding hands, listening to a story together, watching the same show, sharing in music, or practicing alongside one another. We beat together, becoming one organismal being, and we regulate one another. We can even lessen each other’s pain.
“Yoga is the process of attuning the very strings of soul to the music of the world around."
— Nārada's Aphorisms on Bhakti by Nāgeśa Sonde (1988)
For Louise Bourgeois, the predictability of formal repetition brings order to otherwise chaotic feelings: “With geometry you have a consistent set of rules. There is certitude, which is the exact opposite of the emotional world I inhabit.”
Cate Le Bon’s new album Pompeii pulses to a haunting backdrop of saxophones and bass. It’s hypnotic and entrancing, heart-beat synching good.
Above, clockwise from top left: The face at the center of this astronomical clock (residing at Financial Times HQ) is Winston Churchill; Neon light installation by Tracey Emin, at St. Pancras International Train Station; Stonehenge has long been thought to be a place of ceremony and ritual, but some argue it is an ancient timekeeping system.
Below: The Corpus Clock (located in Cambridge) is accurate only roughly every 5 minutes. It was a ￡1 million endeavor, meant to be a reminder that time is relative. The monster on top munches away time, and is aptly called a Chronophage (time eater), or affectionately “hoppy” by locals. The Latin inscription on the bottom reads: Mundus Transit et Concupiscentia Eiu, the World and its Desires Pass Away.