A CONVERSATION ABOUT TIME WITH: 

GENEVIEVE KAPULER

  Genevieve Kapuler has been practicing yoga since 1976. She currently teaches Iyengar Yoga, Alexander Technique, and Body-Mind Centering in downtown Manhattan. Before that, she was a modern dancer and a life-long disciple of art and literature. In this interview the astounding depth and breadth of her knowledge is visible through the telling of her relationship to time, her work, and her perception of the universe. Photo credit: Lisa Wood

Genevieve Kapuler has been practicing yoga since 1976. She currently teaches Iyengar Yoga, Alexander Technique, and Body-Mind Centering in downtown Manhattan. Before that, she was a modern dancer and a life-long disciple of art and literature. In this interview the astounding depth and breadth of her knowledge is visible through the telling of her relationship to time, her work, and her perception of the universe. Photo credit: Lisa Wood

 

Name:   Genevieve Kapuler

Age:  68

Occupation:  Yoga teacher

 

1. What are the first five words that come to mind when you think about time?

Space. The Earth, the whole development of the cosmos - because it is Time. Time had to start somewhere. Even though that’s already a dilemma because what was there before it started? But I don’t usually go there. I don’t go before time.  I go from the Big Bang and evolution. I also think of trees because there’s a way that I can relate to trees and the rings of trees as a sense of time that I can hold. You can hold a tree. You can see the rings of tree.  There’s something palpable about that time. I guess as I talk about it, time would be a river. So: Space, Earth, Evolution, Trees, and River.

2. Do you have any early memories of time and time measurement?

I remember being young and weekends being so long. Summer being endless. I’m from Brooklyn, and my father was very involved with plants and gardens. He was a doctor, but plants were what he really loved. I would come back from summer camp into the backyard and it was overgrown from how long I had been away. 

In terms of time time, I am not dyslexic, but there is a way that I am a little dyslexic with time. I have trouble looking at a clock and knowing exactly what time it is. Not in terms of “it’s six o’clock and it’s time to start class,” but like today, I was working with a baby who had a problem – I was trying to help the mother help the baby move motorically - so I was very involved in this profound study with the baby, and I had to go uptown to the eye doctor and I didn't know what time it was.  And my friend said, “Oh you have enough time you don’t need more than an hour to go uptown” and I said, “I know but I’m dyslexic, it’s hard to tell time.” She said “Genny, you’re not dyslexic!” and I said “I know, but there’s a way that I can’t tell time.”

Then I think of bedtime, and how I would meet my sister in the bathroom, because we had strict bedtimes. We would meet in the bathroom, and there was a nice tiled floor, and we would play jacks. So there was that time. It was a time that was like extra time because we were supposed to be in bed.

3. In your daily life, how often do you think about the times of the day?

Like morning and afternoon and … ?

Yes, I mean, how often are you sort of aware ‘ it’s two o’clock, it’s four o’clock’… 

Oh, all the time. I try to start classes on time and end classes on time, and then there are all the commitments in between. I need to be ready, I need to practice, I need to cook, I need to do whatever I need to do so I can do my classes ... So I’m always in a way aware of the time. Almost like a metronome in the city.

Whereas in the country it would be more ... I watch the clouds and I’m aware of the afternoon passing. I’m gardening, and it’s nice to be in the garden where it’s not sunny as I’m weeding. It’s nice to be at the pond either early or late when the light is more beautiful. So in the country, my sense of time is more related to the light and my pleasure in the world. It’s more about space. Here [in New York] it’s really chronological. Even though I have a lot of space (gestures around to her open loft studio). And teaching yoga and bodywork I feel like I inhabit space a lot. So I’m not locked in.

4. How many times of day does your profession require you to measure time? In what ways does time factor into your profession?

It takes a certain amount of time to get people from arriving in the room to being inside themselves. And then it takes a certain amount of time – and literally, it takes time – to get from being in your self to doing whatever the theme is – be it forward bends or back bends or twists or headstands, inversions, pranayama – to find through the lesson the transformation. There’s a point in the class when I completely let go of time. And it feels timeless. I am in the river; I am swimming in the ocean. But then I have to pull it back again. I bring everything back onto the graph so that people are ready to come back to the surface, inhabit themselves in the room, ready to walk out into the world, and I haven’t abandoned them in ...

Some timeless river?

(laughs) Right.

I’ve only been to two of your classes so far, but I can identify with that feeling of timelessness. I’m very interested in the timer you have, not least because it’s visually interesting, what with all the feathers and tape. 

 

 The feathered studio timer in all it's glory. 

The feathered studio timer in all it's glory. 

Well, I need a timer because I actually am not so good with time. Yoga is very time-oriented, at least in the way that I learned it. My yoga teacher, Mr. Iyengar, he times his poses a lot. So I learned from him to use a timer. But I would always lose my timer! So someone most kindly brought me the feathers.

It lightens the entire experience of looking at that timer, those feathers.

And it’s on a base of a shehnai, one of those Indian oboes. And, with this beautiful shehnai base, I have duct taped it because it is broken – so that it becomes an ... art piece. 

Yes, it’s an object into of itself at this point. I’m tempted to ask one more question about that clock, and times in poses. It’s a little paradoxical – once you know the timer is going, only then you can let go of time completely. Once time is running, then you can let it go… Do you ever have that experience?

Yes, there is something freeing there. You know, when I was a modern dancer, we always used to say that a good improvisation had really clear definitions to it. And that’s the same kind of thing. The limitations of time actually create a compression that permits the...  (pauses). It’s almost alchemical you know. There is some essence that comes from defining time.

5. When do you lose track of time, and why?

I lose track of time when I allow myself. I was raised by two parents who were very prompt, so I was raised with a clear sense of time. If I said to them I would be home at four o’clock, they would expect me to be home at four o’clock. I mean, I could say that I would be home at six o’clock, but there were no cell phones then, so that really time and your word were connected.

And it’s quite different now – I can tell you instantaneously if I’m running late, so my word no longer is attached to my time in the same way.

And, also, the amount of information we get is so vast that the compression changes the time. Like, how do I lose track of time? Ok, so today I left an hour to go uptown. I didn’t need an hour to go uptown. I went to the Frick to see Pierre de la Francesca. Now, that was one little room and six or seven paintings. I let myself float around the museum. I went into the atrium.  I visited the fish, looked at the light. I schedule in that kind of wiggle room. I over-schedule the amount of time I need, so I then when I come back, and I’m going to give a lesson that starts exactly at four and ends at five, I can do that and it feels effortless.

There’s a way to me that aesthetics and ethics are two sides of the same coin. So when it’s beautiful, it also feels morally correct for me. I can be on time, but it doesn’t feel rigid, it feels graceful. But then I need that other kind of time, where I just let my mind completely float. I do that reading. I do that in the afternoon – I could lie on the couch and start to read and fall asleep, and maybe I would put my timer on so I know I wouldn’t sleep past that hour I was allowed. But then time gets completely unwound.

 In the studio,  a picture of a clock next to an actual clock gives the latter some perspective. 

In the studio,  a picture of a clock next to an actual clock gives the latter some perspective. 

Within that framework of letting it go?

Yes. And I really have the image of like a spool of thread that falls off the table and rolls under the table and unravels.

6. Have you ever experienced time as faster or slower than ‘normal’? Normal is, of course, in quotation marks – feel free to describe what your concept of normal time is as well.

I think it happens all the time. Time really very much is an accordion, and that even though when I am working, I keep it on the chronometer, on the metronome, the very second I am not working I can go into a timeless space. So that I feel that time is very much a construct. If we went back in time to when it was dark you went to sleep and when it was light you awakened, that’s really time. What we’ve done is made a construct so that I can say to you “be here at 5:30” and you can arrive exactly ‘on time’. 

I’m really interested in the relationship to time and your word – that relationship you mentioned growing up – and how those things have started to come apart now that we have the technological ability to change our word, change our place instantaneously.

I think it has to do with the need for a little flexibility, because of the stress level. And because it’s not in any way disrespectful, or morally reprehensible, to call a friend to say I am running late to a movie. We’ve been freed of that.

One of my students is a doula, and she said to me that in the birthing process, its like being between heaven and earth, its not a normal state, its like the dying process. If you’re at someone’s beside when they are dying, you will know that these are not normal states, the entrances and the exits. And time changes. The time opens. However, there is exactly that moment when the child is born, so it’s very specific.

It’s very hard to hold time. Like, I can remember being a little girl. And part of me remembers what it was like to be five and go to kindergarten. Or, in seventh grade when I went to the literary club and I would put my head on the table and the teacher would read stories and I loved it. I can remember exactly who that was. I can remember when I met my husband. 1968. And yet I can look at him now and I see the time in him, because I remember what he was like.

I think that’s one of the easiest places to see time – either in people that I love or in nature that I love. We’ve had our country house 26 years. I see the trees grow, I see the field change, I see the forest thicken, I see the streambed shift. Also, as I age – I’m 66 now – I can start feeling that my time is getting allotted. Like, my allotted time is ... I can kind of feel it.

What does it feel like?

That there is an end. An end that I never felt when I was young. It felt so open-ended, my life. I didn’t know where I was going. I always had the image of my life being like a sculpture, that I was sculpting the shape of my life, and it had many chapters in it. There was the chapter where I was dancing. There was the chapter where I stopped dancing so I could raise my child. Suddenly, there was the chapter of my being a yoga teacher. And now, I am considering, what do I want to do with the next 10 years? Both my parents died at 86, so I’m thinking, ‘I have 20 years left’. I never thought like this when I was young.  So suddenly time is really palpable to me in a new way.

You’re the second person who has said that word, ‘palpable’. The last woman interviewed, also in her 60s, used that word. That’s why I pressed, because I truly do not know what it feels like, since I am not yet that age.

How old are you?

I’m 26. As old as your country house.

It’s like you have your whole life ahead of you!

It feels that way but…

Oh, you do!

I recognize that, and I am so grateful for it- one of my predominate feelings these days is gratitude for the expanse I have in front of me, even as it dwindles as I live. But I also see it in my parents. I see the different relationships both my parents have with time. My mother is at such peace with time. She is a very peaceful being, an introspective being. And my father is not less so – in fact, possibly more introspective in his own particular ways – but I can feel his anxiety about that palpable quality – he’s 64 now. And as his daughter I would like to ease it, though I know it is not my place to do so, nor it in my ability to do so. So I’m curious about that anxiety, very curious.

Well, the anxiety is when one realizes that it’s finite, even though we always know that.

Yes, it seems to be the difference between knowing and feeling.

I just had a very strange memory that came up, just as we were talking! I remember – my birthday is on the 8th – I remember when I was eight on the eighth, and I thought, ‘that’s the infinity sign’. So that was another early time memory.

And I’m actually more involved in a sense of infinity than I am in a sense of time. I feel that life is such a gift, so time is the gift – that IS the gift we are given, of life in time.

7. In what way do you see time? Are you singular in this present moment and is past behind you and the future ahead? Because I’ve read about cultures that perceive time spatially as quite the opposite – we look towards our past, and the future is what is behind our head, unknown to us. So maybe a better question is, what is your spatial experience of time? So take any of those cues, because that was very open ended.

My mother lost her memory, she had Alzheimer’s. So, I’m very involved in memory as I age. Because it seemed to me that when she lost her memory, she lost her mind, and I lost her. It was easy for me to take care of her, because she was my mother and I loved her, and she was very loving towards the end, she just wasn’t there. So I have the feeling that the sense of time, of memory, is who we are. We are in time. Inextricably.

We are those concentric rings. We live them.

So, we’re caught in time. I can go and I can see my granddaughter and I can see her parents- my son and his wife – and they don’t know how to deal with this newborn baby, they’ve never been around babies before- what do they know about it? And it feels so easy for me, so known and so familiar.

Our experience is the deep well of who we are, and that’s what time on the earth gives us. I mean, already, look how much more you know now then you did 10 years ago. There is just the deepening of the beauty. There is a Japanese haiku that says: “There is not a spring we don’t leave behind the flowers.” But every spring you see the flowers, every summer you see them and they are even more amazing. Every time you see the full moon you can’t believe that the world can be so beautiful. And so it is in memory.

Time has a lot to do with memory. But I also have a feeling that I don’t know the future. So I do feel that I am walking into the future, and it is completely unknown. And this is another very curious thing that I am finding – is that I am re-writing the past all the time.

More so now?

Yes, definitely.

In what ways?

Most immediately, let’s see … my granddaughter is born, I come home, I’m looking for a book to read, I find a book my mother gave me – my mother is dead maybe 8 years – and I can now read a book that she wanted me to read that I didn’t want to read when she gave it to me. But now I can appreciate why she gave it to me. Though now I can no longer have that dialogue with her.

We re-write the past. I mean, there were things about my upbringing that I struggled with growing up, that now I am so grateful, I am so appreciative of things I once rebelled against. And this is what I mean by re-writing the past.

Well, that’s technically where my questions end. We’ve covered a lot of ground… is there anything more you’d like to say?

Someone teaches me Hinduism. In Hinduism, it’s the glance of Vishnu that starts the whole world. Just the looking creates the world. And this week he said to me that another way to say the glance of Vishnu is to say ‘time-energy’. Another way to say ‘time-energy’ is sound, which is the ‘Om.’ That is why yoga classes start with the ‘Om’ because the ‘Om’ is the glance of God, the beginning of creation, and it is also paying respect to that. So, we can end with that.


This interview was conducted on June 25, 2013. Any errors in transcription are entirely of the author. For more information, visit. http://www.gennykapuler.com/