July 15, 2011

All Clean!

A Good Yoga Practice Leaves Us Feeling Straightened and Stretched, Shiny and Clean — From the Inside Out.

I’ve spent a large part of this week cleaning. For those of you who know me, you might know I’m not at all a “cleaner” by nature. In fact, it was just months into my marriage when I cleverly negotiated a deal that involved my husband taking responsibility for cleaning the bathrooms forever-and-ever-amen! But that’s another story for another time.

While I’m not a “cleaner,” I am a “straightener.”  I subscribe fully to the philosophy that there is a place for everything and everything should be in its place. So, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I spent this week in a whirlwind of straightening. However, because hot soapy water, dust cloths and an iron were involved, I’m comfortable calling it cleaning!

It all started on Monday night with the bookshelves in my office. You see, I’d actually reached the point when “just one more book” could not be squeezed onto the shelves. Rapidly, my efforts spread all through the house. The piles in the guest room are gone. The curtains in our bedrooms and the dining room are clean, pressed and re-hung. The doo-dads on top of cabinets and wardrobes all through the house have been wiped clean and reconfigured. I even completely emptied the china cupboards in the kitchen and scrubbed and dried every vase, candlestick and goblet. When my “whirlwind” of activity subsided I felt great! I also felt slightly confused by what on Earth had come over me.

Yoga teaches us about sauca or purity. While sauca applies to our lives on many different levels, for this morning let’s stick with the physical. When we step onto our mats, we’re not necessarily practicing to fix something that’s wrong with us. As a matter of course, as we practice regularly old injuries will heal and limitations will disappear. But this is not what draws us to practice.

Practicing yoga’s asana or postures is a way to lavish care on our bodies. As we stretch and bend we are restoring our muscles and joints to their state of easy mobility. As we turn and twist we are wringing our organs and muscles clean of built-up toxins. As we inhale deeply and fully we are flooding our body with purifying oxygen. We are flushing ourselves clean of carbon dioxide and other pollutants as we exhale. As we move our bodies through the sun salutations we are building rich, intense, cleansing heat. This is not heat as in, “Jeez, it’s hot outside. I’m sweating.” This is heat from deep within. Absolutely, we’re sweating. But this sweat comes from energy we are building inside our bodies. This sweat is as purifying as our breaths. For me, at least, this is sweat like no other sweat – and I grew up on the tennis courts of hot and humid Houston, Texas!

In this light, it’s easy to see our practice as a whirlwind of cleaning much like my household whirlwind this week. On our mats, we lavish attention on our bodies – part by part. As we hold each posture, we focus our attention on each limb and joint – limbs and joints we may not even notice otherwise. From our fingers and our toes to our necks and hips, the ashtanga series of asana gives every body part its time in the limelight. As we focus on each of our parts, we come to appreciate them and are grateful to them for all they do for us. We are nurturing our physical selves. The love that we feel for our bodies because of their capability and reliability obscures any petty grievances we may have — such as flabby knees, overly padded rear-ends or crooked elbows. When we finally reach our rest in savasana we feel great – straightened and stretched, shiny and clean from the inside out.

The state of my house the Sunday before my whirlwind was not overly messy or dirty. In other words, my need to clean was not coming from a desire to fix something that was hurting me or holding me back. I wasn’t correcting something. I believe my cleaning was less about needed results than it was about the act itself. I was moving through my home, room by room, caring for my belongings. Certainly I was cleaning and straightening up, but more than that I was lavishing care on my house and the items that fill it. While I washed and dusted each item, I was focused on it alone. The items that I don’t even see most days as they sit in their spots or hang on their rods became visible to me again. I felt gratitude for having beautiful curtains. I felt love toward the people who gave us crystal candlesticks as a wedding gift. I was nurturing my self by nurturing my stuff — just as I nurture myself my nurturing my body on my yoga mat.

Practice love and care for yourselves this week – on your mats and off.

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