When we are asked what time is, we just think of clock time. We know that at a particular time, we wake up, we go to work, we eat, we go to a yoga class, so on and so forth. Seems simple enough that we don't really think about it. But if you ask someone who is an expert in the field of physics or quantum mechanics or astronomy or cosmology what time is, the answer becomes a little bit more complicated. In fact, Albert Einstein at one point thought he understood the nature of time, but after six months realized that the nature of time is still a question yet to be answered.
There are many things we do not know about time, but there are also some things that we do know. In some ways, the ancient study of yoga has intuitively known the concepts that physics is able to quantify. The Sanskrit word ksana refers to a point in time so small it has no dimension and cannot be further broken down. The same idea is expressed in physics called planck time, which Professor Brian Cox explains in his documentary What Is Time as "a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth of a millionth and a little bit more of a second". We also know that we experience time differently with altitude. The higher we are, the faster we age. Of course, the difference is barely noticeable. In the book The Yoga of Time Travel, an example was given to illustrate the idea of how varied time could be. Two people measuring a 24-hour period can register differences in time according to movement. The difference would be in nanoseconds, but the idea shows that we do indeed experience time differently. Furthermore, the differences may seem insignificant as we are Earth-bound, but that time warp could be significant as we expand out to the universe.
Why is the question of what time is relevant to the yogi? As yogis, we are searching for the truth. We are looking to dismantle illusions. We are looking to examine the unquestioned, the seemingly absolute, the prevailing beliefs of our time. Could time too be an illusion, just as many of the things we are attached to are illusions? If we are so certain that time is real and linear and follows an arrow because of our own sensory experiences and yet science has a few other theories, can we then see that other things we are so certain of can possibly be illusions too?
Another point is that given we experience time differently, how is it that we can be so impatient and intolerant of others not sharing the same timing as we do? Think of someone in your life whose timing is different from yours. Perhaps you feel you have progressed in some area and this person is lagging behind, or maybe it is this person making progress or moving forward and you feel pressured to catch up, as if the point of this life is to get on some metaphorical finish line of success as we define it. Can we use asana as a tool to understand and accept this difference in timing? Even as the teacher gives cues for poses, each person moves along his or her own timing, breath, and rhythm. And given the room to honor one's own timing and breath and rhythm, we may notice that the differences become more pronounced, whether in the way we move our bodies from pose to pose or our opinions, thoughts, and feelings about different subjects. We may also observe our impatience and intolerance towards ourselves, measuring ourselves against an imaginary timeline of what asana we should have mastered by now or how much money we should have by now or where our lives should be right now.
As timing is different for everyone, it is imperative that we start accepting our own timing. This does not mean making excuses or being lazy or denying truth as it is. Rather, it is that we do the best with all that we have and accept the results as they are. It is only when we are able to accept our own timing that we can accept the timing of others. It is only when we build the capacity to unconditionally love ourselves that we could project this unconditional love out into the world.
Physics shows us that we do experience time differently. Is that not a design of the universe reminding us that our own pace is the default setting, that there is nobody to catch up to except ourselves? Is it not very telling of the magnificence by which we move individually in very subtle yet unique ways? Perhaps the bigger problem to be solved is not the nature of time but the remembering of the nature of our consciousness.