The term wabi-sabi sounds like the green paste that lurks in my sushi box.
But it’s not to be confused Japanese horseradish. Rather, it’s a Japanese art form that is compatible with the two great philosophies of Taoism and Zen Buddhism, and it sits beautifully with how I see yoga.
The word wabi used to mean poverty, but post 14th century it became connected with non-dependence on material possessions; similar to the yoga principles of detachment and equanimity.
If wabi is the lens through which to see things, then sabi is the object (piece of art) of our attention.
Arielle Ford, columnist and blogger for the Huffington Post, first became enthralled with wabi-sabi art when she visited a Japanese art gallery and saw a vase with a spotlight positioned purposefully on a crack that ran down the center of the piece. Through a westerner’s eye conditioned to see beauty in perfection and symmetry, this was a seminal moment of reevaluation for her.
Like the vase with the illuminated flaw, yoga encourages us to see that we, the object, are perfect the way we are—each one of us made in a uniquely beautiful ambiguous and irregular way.
Like a tree that grows short or tall, thin or thick with leaves, crooked or straight, we must learn to appreciate our shadows as much as we do our light.
In his book Bonsai Masterclass, Peter Chan talks about the three principles of wabi-sabi:
- Simplicity, or “the application of the minimum and the appropriate, no more than is needed.”
- Tranquility, or the quality of “feeling refreshed and touched within, but with solace; calm, not excitement or over stimulation.”
- Naturalness, as being “the avoidance of contrivance.”
In yoga, we are encouraged to use our energy wisely to enhance and not distract from self exploration and compassion.
Yoga, like wabi-sabi, is a way to live that plays down the role of the intellect and accentuates an intuitive feel for life where relationships between people and their environments should be in harmony.
Both philosophies embrace an inexhaustible interest in life as it unfolds, with all of its accidents, and bow in awe of the universal flux of coming from and returning to.
“To be alone, it is a color that cannot be named, the mountain where cedars rise into the autumn dusk.”
~ Jakuren Hoshi
Lisa Quish is a yoga teacher at the Yoga Hub in Dublin, Ireland.
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Asst. Ed: Amy Cushing/Ed: Bryonie Wise
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