October 14, 2011

Open Your Mind and the Body Will Follow… Or is it the Other Way Around?

It’s 8:45am and I’ve been looking at the vacation photos of people I haven’t seen since high school for 45 minutes. Class at the local yoga studio begins at 9:00am. I jump up, slam the laptop shut and grab my keys and mat and head out the door.

I drive a bit too fast to the studio, cursing the slow drivers in front of me, cursing the double parkers even harder. It’s raining. Why is it always raining? Doesn’t the universe know that my skin does better in the cool, dry weather?

Running to the yoga studio in flip flops in the rain is not a good idea. I’m sliding all over the place, dodging cars in the only intersection in Queens, NY that doesn’t have a crosswalk

Rushing through the door, I have a moment of relief. The teacher has not yet begun class. A sigh of quiet comes over my body and I take off the slippery flip flops and place them among the array of other, smarter choices of footwear.

I quietly unroll my mat on to the floor, as I don’t want to disturb anyone. Not that it matters, because they’re always chit-chatting before class. Don’t they know that this is a sacred space? I’m better than them because I don’t talk before class. No, wait. I’m not as good as them because I’m judging. My mind reels again. Am I a good person? Am I failing mankind? For the love of Krishna, why won’t they stop talking?

As I come into Child’s Pose the instructor says in his smooth yoga voice, “Walk your hands to the right.”  My mind is still everywhere, wondering why I couldn’t think of an intention to set for class. There are plenty of things I could have thought of, but I blew it when I had the chance.

And then, I feel the stretch in the left side of my body and my mind zooms into focus. ‘Repair your relationships,’ I hear somewhere deep within my consciousness. ‘Yes,’ I hear from somewhere else. Ujjaii breath comes to meet my mind and I have arrived. I feel the mat beneath my body, I feel my body.

Often when I teach, I say to the students, ‘Open your mind and the body will follow.’ Today, though, there on the mat and in the practice, I wondered if it might be interchangeable with ‘open my body and my mind will follow.’

We spend all day, every day, in a flurry of excitement. In some moments, that excitement translates into stress, hunger, annoyance or judgment, and in others, it’s being happy to see our significant other come through the door, the moment before a presentation at work, or getting revved up to watch the newest episode of [insert favorite TV show here]. The reality of all of this is that we aren’t quiet for very long each day. There is constant stimulus which can remind us how alive we are, and also contribute to us forgetting that same truth.

Coming to the mat, and literally as well as figuratively getting into my body reminds me again and again that I am only here, now. The girl I once was has morphed into the woman I am now. What I project may or may not happen after I leave my mat is just that; projection.

And so, no matter how frenzied my thoughts are, no matter how filled with self doubt they are, no matter how many people I compare myself to, I come back to the practice and know that no matter how beautiful my yoga may or may not be, it is a practice. Yoga is never done evolving, not even when my legs are wrapped around my neck, my hands are resting in Anjali Mudra and my face is serene. (Note: These things have not happened concurrently in my practice… yet.)

For me, there are days when I come to the practice and my mind is already quiet and ready to join my body in on the act, and there are others when I come into it, actually thinking that if my thoughts were audible to others, I’d be considered completely imbalanced.

Yoga brings up the questions that the mind dare not ask itself. Often in practice, I’ll feel the voice of my body asking the silent question, ‘Is that true, what you just thought of?’ Inevitably, the mind must acquiesce and admit that it doesn’t know all of the answers. Off of the mat, the mind rules with the help of ego, and that can be a dangerous place to stay in for too long.

I have found that the voice of my body is much stronger than my mind, and that’s why when I’ve been holding a challenging pose for more than a breath or two, my mind starts asking, ‘Why? What for? How long must we endure this?’ The voice of the body feels to me like the parent of an unhappy child. I feel a light come up from the soles of my feet, shining through the crown of my head, showing my mind just who is holding the reins in the moment.

Back on the mat, I begin to understand that everything is already okay. My body knows, but my mind needs some convincing. And so, Body complies. ‘Here,’ she says, ‘feel the backs of our legs in forward fold, Feel the breath rush into our lungs as we leave Chaturanga for Bhujangasana. Now, darling, doesn’t that feel better?’ Quietly, from within somewhere or perhaps from entirely without I hear, simply, ‘Yes.’ Maybe even followed by, ‘Thank you.’

I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter which order it comes in; mind opening body or body opening mind. It only matters to me that we all give ourselves the chance to practice this connection, and watch it strengthen every single time we set feet on the mat.

May we all know the voice of the body, and feel the compassion with which it speaks.

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