Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Yoga and the Art of Looking at Nothing

Yoga and I have never mixed. I like fast, adrenaline-inducing exercise like skating, biking, sailing and anything combining speed with a dash of danger. Frothy waves rushing by me and gravel blurring beneath my feet demand my attention and have been my favored activities since I was a teen.

But yoga keeps coming back for me. I have tried probably twenty times over the past forty years and every time the same thing. Not strenuous enough, too slow, boring, tedious. And you want me to close my eyes and quiet my mind? Insane.

Last year while nursing my injury of the month I decided to venture forth into the land of Namaste once more. It was a gentle yoga class taught by a calm, patient woman name Michelle. The first twenty minutes of the first class I plotted my escape. When everyone is facing due east in their warrior 1 pose, I will sprint west and out the door to freedom.

Then, at minute fifteen something started to shift in me. I watched Michelle, eyes closed, as she spoke of self-acceptance and gratitude. The tranquility radiating from her was mesmerizing and I wanted to get me some of that zen stuff too. I closed my eyes tentatively and did not disappear as I had anticipated. In fact, I started to feel more present than I had in a very long time. With my eyes closed I no longer had to judge myself or others and that was an unexpected gift. From time to time I still peeked around the studio. Was I in the right pose? Was everyone looking at me?

Nearing the end of class our instructor had us lay back into Shavasana (or corpse pose) where we are completely still and alone within ourselves. Hard to believe that being alone with myself could be more frightening than thrusting my downward facing dog butt out in front of thirty other yoga participants.

Still, I persevered and many months later I finally understand the yoga mystique. I choose to stop the endless chatter and judgement in my head as I release all "the thoughts that do not serve me" and kick them softly downstream like wayward logs in a river. Or I place them on puffy clouds and gently blow them off into the vast sky.

As we return to the close of class gratitude oozes out of me and I am now reluctant to open my eyes and leave behind the gorgeous views I have seen within. But I know I will be back because I'm gonna  get me some more of that beautiful zen.

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