Kettle boilers

My teacher Bill Wood is always quick to remind students of the power of the micro-practice – those 10-minutes of practice each day that equate to so much more than the weekly 90-minute class that you don’t make – as well as what he calls ‘kettle boilers’ – the one or two poses you play with while waiting for the kettle to boil when you go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. I like the association of yoga with such everyday environments as the kitchen since it is the yoga we integrate into our daily lives that has the most long-term impact and benefit.

Recently, I have been more keenly aware of the relationship between yoga and creativity. Not only does the regular practice of yoga cultivate creativity, yoga is an inherently creative practice when we surrender to a state of ‘not knowing’ and let intuition guide the form and sequence of poses. I have been reading with great interest about the habits of creative people, especially with regard to disciplines that provide structure for the creative process.

Sister Corita Kent in her classic text Learning by Heart: Teaching to Free the Creative Spiritdedicates a chapter to structure in which she says: “If you have a class at a certain time and place, you must be there and not somewhere else. You must be there because otherwise your contribution (in thinking, dreaming, knowing, not knowing) would be missing from that class and it would be the poorer without you. You aren’t needed to be there to get grades or pass the course – you are needed to help make the class. So the structure is there for you and you are also the structure – your particular gifts help shape it.”

This describes perfectly how, simply by showing up, either to your daily practice and/or to a class, you create possibilities and shape the world around you. We learn most from ourselves as teachers, and our teachers learn most from their students. The discipline of a daily practice that is both achievable and realistic is a practice in participation in life.

The poet Henry Wordsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) made the simple commitment to spend ten minutes each day over many years to translate Dante’s Divine Comedy into English, so becoming the first American to complete this epic literary challenge. And, at what time of day did he do this? In the morning, of course, while waiting for his coffee-kettle to boil. He opened his ledger when the kettle went on, and closed it when the kettle hissed.

We should never play down the transformative effect of small acts of great concentration practiced daily. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle and Generally Have More Fun, has similarly been inspired by the habits of creative people with purpose. She says: “We tend to overestimate what we can do in a short period, and underestimate what we can do over a long period, provided we work slowly and consistently.” Rubin points to the 19th-Century novelist and British postal system reformer, Antony Trollope, who observed: “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.”

Perhaps, then its time to let go of the ‘spasmodic Hercules’ who beats himself up for another missed class or unrealistic target for daily practice, and refashion yourself as a ‘kettle-boiler’. Less glamorous, but more functional, productive and creative. We all approach yoga from a different perspective, and for different reasons. But, whether you want to feel calmer as you walk through life or want to be able to hold an unsupported handstand for five minutes while still smiling, spending a manageable yet dedicated chunk of time to practicing those poses, breathing or meditation techniques that you feel most drawn to will reap profound rewards. Rather than let your practice go off the boil, embrace the micro-practice. It’s time to put on another brew.