Rock Solid

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Shane Hart's yoga practice is rock solid. He strikes precarious balances along the Pacific Northwest shore—poses that withstand inhospitable squalls, scratchy barnacles, and crowds of curious onlookers. But the shapes he's making aren't with his body. As an artist, Hart practices what he calls Upala Yoga—or stone yoga. "People have been walking by these rocks for years. They're so mundane, so commonplace, and yet I can bring them to life," Hart says.

Hart, the 41-year-old father of three and a manager of a natural-products company, lives near Bellingham, Washington, where he does his art. Upala is Sanskrit for "stone," and Hart uses mere gravity and friction to build seemingly impossible towers of rocks. His work looks deceptively simple, but with progressively challenging structures, a deeper practice evolves. Stone yoga offers Hart a meditation and a centeredness beyond what he experiences in his Ashtanga Yoga practice. He calls Upala "enchanted territory," without guides; but judging from the crowds who gather to watch him (and seek his guidance), Hart is spawning a movement.

A rock artist on a San Diego beach gave Hart his initial inspiration. Over the years, he dabbled in stone balancing, but 10 years later, while his children frolicked at a waterfront park, he finally discovered serious meditation in the art. The concept of Upala Yoga solidified for Hart when a young admirer said, "The rocks are doing yoga." His art then evolved into a spiritual discipline.

Last winter, Hart devoted himself to his practice. Every Saturday for six months, he bundled up in rain gear and fingerless gloves, spent an hour before sunrise pushing a metal cart along the coast to gather stones, and then began to stack them. The following 10 to 12 hours were a meditation on physical balance and nonattachment. His effort yielded no material reward, and by day's end, he'd assist gravity in dismantling the stacks so no injuries could result from any falling rocks. Word spread, and his weekly pilgrimage started attracting a crowd. Distractions intensified his practice. A growing mindfulness of his breath and the elements taught him that appeasing a crowd with faster or taller stacks didn't work: "The most effective way to do this is to stay centered with that stone, at that time."

Hart considers stone-balancing techniques a metaphor for life's challenges. "Sit and work patiently and mindfully; eventually the stones click into place," he says. Calling rock asanas "transient artwork," he strives not to make them permanent. For Hart, teetering stone towers are akin to sand mandalas: It can take hours or days to complete them, but only five seconds to undo them. "There's a letting go in that."

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