Andrew Parrott: Gurus, yogis and La La Land, the flow of fall | Opinion

It would be difficult for me to choose an activity that has shaped more of my life, internally and externally, than yoga. Perhaps motorcycles — yet even this nearly three-decades’ love affair has been informed by Robert M. Pirsig’s classic, “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance,” in which his philosophy could just as easily be heard on the mat in Boulder, Bali , Santa Monica, Aspen or Nosara, Mexico. Or a host of other places.

Although I had dabbled in yoga before coming to Aspen, I credit the people in this valley with properly setting me on the path. Of course Aspen has its own unique mix of glamor and grit that permeates pretty much everything we do, “La La Land en Las Montañas,” with vinyasa flows and Spiritual Gangsters (athleisure for “high-vibration living”!) from the 405 to Highway 82.

One’s yoga practice is as fluid and dynamic as the stages of a life; it is a discipline that remains rooted in the present, adapting its modalities to the seasons of the practitioner. For several years, I focused largely on Bikram, adhering to the militant “26 & 2” while practicing in a setting (104 Fahrenheit) that forces one to bring it all back to the breath and is a remarkable diagnostic tool for day-to- day monitoring of both emotional and physical health, as the practice is scripted and replicable. Let’s call Bikram my “West Point” phase of yoga.

Throughout this time, I dabbled in other disciplines, sometimes letting tape recordings of Rod Stryker’s Yoga Nidra lull me to sleep, other times dropping into apres-ski “weed-and-wine” sessions at Arjuna. Beats bumped, boxed wine flowed, pupils dilated and ears attuned to Jaime waxing philosophically about paddling upstream in North Star to a room full of people clad in board shorts, Strafe and Lulu as “Hey Jude” hypnotically urged us to “remember to let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better.”

Two of the most important things I continue to take from each yoga session, regardless of instructor, geography or modality, is the importance of keeping one’s heart open (both physically and metaphorically) and bringing it all back to the intentional breath, the meditative moment , the never-ending now.

At some point, I decided much of my life had been militant and disciplined enough, and the “yoga as a sport” attitude present in much of the Roaring Fork Valley ceased to appeal to me. If the Down Dog yoga app and Strava were ever to create a strategic partnership, people would start questing for KOM/QOM (King/Queen of the Mountain) designations in chaturanga dandasana. Such is the psychology of many in this place we call home, where not having a handstand practice at any age (seven to 70) is the equivalent of not knowing how to ski.

That’s why as the years go by and I become somehow even more pathologically resistant to authority, I appreciate the instructors and modalities alike who encourage flow, healing over sport, have dope music and don’t glare at me disapprovingly if I take a sip of water before eagle pose. King Yoga with Shakti sensibilities, I suppose: the divine masculine and feminine, balanced.

I also enjoy unique community offerings, such as the time I unexpectedly and hilariously first met a fellow columnist with whom I had traded emails for the better part of a year at a yoga class that was the emotional equivalent of a key party. Our significant others had both taken us to this event (which was actually a wonderful exercise in vulnerability), and as two of the few males present, we effectively had the choice to either drop in fully with “All Eyez on Me” like Pac sang , or show ourselves to be emotionally stunted Neanderthals who would never again be allowed to practice “sexual yoga” (as we later dubbed it) in Aspen.

Needless to say, we took the red pill, and in doing so, I learned a lot from people of all ages and walks of life in this valley about how to sustain and nurture relationships. That has been the biggest gift of yoga, and of life, to me: connective relationships. The way the practice translates to the surf, or the motorcycle or morning stretches — that’s all a bonus.

The ability to breathe intentionally in a moving, mindful meditation throughout every action and encounter in this life while keeping the heart open (in short, the ability to be present and smoothly transition) is the most important and impactful vinyasa flow a human being can ever practice. And so as my yoga journey shifted from Bikram to more of a primal flow (although I still drop into the 26 & 2 from time to time to remember and more recently, because roots are roots), I think Pirsig said it best when writing about mountains , motorcycles and mankind:

“Mountains should be climbed with as little effort as possible and without desire. The reality of your own nature should determine the speed. If you become restless, speed up. If you become winded, slow down. You climb the mountain in an equilibrium between restlessness and exhaustion. Then, when you’re no longer thinking ahead, each footstep isn’t just a means to an end but a unique event in itself. This leaf has jagged edges. This rock looks loose. From this place the snow is less visible, even though closer. These are things you should notice anyway. To live only for some future goal is shallow. It’s the sides of the mountain that sustain life, not the top. Here’s where things grow. But of course, without the top you can’t have any sides. It’s the top that defines the sides. So on we go — we have a long way — no hurry — just one step after the next — with a little Chautauqua for entertainment.”