My first guru was an architect from Berkeley, California, I’ve never met. He isn’t a yogi. In fact, I don’t know if he has ever practiced yoga.
Christopher Alexander wrote two books over thirty years ago. In The Timeless Way of Building he explains why some physical environments—homes, workspaces, gardens, cities—have ‘the quality of being alive’. In A Pattern Language, he tells how to build them.
Buildings and spaces that are alive invite one’s inner nature to flourish openly and with freedom. (Imagine a clapboard cottage with wood floors and french doors opening to the beach. Or the town square in a centuries-old village where retirees gather to play chess). For some, the sensation of aliveness manifests as energy, creativity or contentment. For others it’s a feeling of ‘rightness’. For me, it’s a tingly awakening to presence: “OMG! Here I am in this moment, alive.”
But what of the inevitable spaces between? A harshly lit supermarket. The airport. A traffic snarl. Deadlines. Yoga gives us the means to cultivate the ‘quality of being alive’ no matter where or in what situation we find ourselves. Even though launching into a sun salutation isn’t usually a satisfying option in a public place (even Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s), we can take presence into the board room, classroom or hospital. We can practice relaxation on the road and in crisis. We can breathe.
Thirty years ago Christopher Alexander wrote about creating external spaces that allow us to be fully alive. The practice of yoga creates internal spaces for the same reason.