This afternoon was a crummy one weather-wise; freezing rain iced the roads late last night, and while most of the highways were relatively clear by mid-morning, the cold rain still drizzled down. In addition to the not-ideal external conditions, I was also feeling internal pressure: my sweetie and I are leaving tomorrow for a week-long visit with my out-of-state family, and I felt the stress of needing to “get everything ready” start to creep in on me. I called the yoga studio to see if perhaps class was canceled due to the inclement weather; but no, they were open. See you at 1 pm.
Sigh. Okay. See you at 1.
So I got up from my comfortable sofa, changed out of my comfortable sweatpants, left my comfortable house – and got in my cold car, drove in the cold rain, and arrived at the cold studio.
But. Once I was there, I was deeply grateful that I get the opportunity to be there. Indeed, our anatomy teacher began class by telling us that the original yogis from ancient times used to climb the Himalaya mountains to study yoga in caves – that’s how badly they wanted to learn these teachings. If those folks can climb literally thousands of feet in all kinds of extreme conditions for their practice, certainly I can drive 30 minutes in a little rain. Once again, yoga provides me excellent perspective.
Today’s session was our last anatomy class. In the previous three classes, we studied various parts of the skeletal system. In this session, the instructor changed things up a bit, and led us in a brief exploration of our internal organs – and how our organs can affect and influence our yoga practice. We engaged in various poses and postures, but with the focus of initiating movement from our internal organs (instead of from our bones or our muscles). I had never even thought about beginning a movement from my literal heart (or lungs, or stomach…) – it was a completely new way to both think about and engage in practice. As I did my best to genuinely move in this different way, I felt both my specific movements and my practice in general take on a much gentler, kinder quality. Instead of pushing my arms to see how high they could reach, I allowed them to just follow the lead of my lungs, and stop at the point that my lungs naturally supported them. Instead of straining my legs to see how wide and how long they could stretch, I let them just stop when my stomach and intestines indicated it was the place to end. Moving through asanas in this way felt much less forced, and much more forgiving to myself. It felt peaceful. Truly soothing. A beautiful way to practice, and to experience a hint of the true “union” that is yoga.
For even more support, our teacher explained his view that real yoga is not about following a prescribed set of poses, or forcing one’s body to experience discomfort for the sake of achieving some “greater goal”; this teacher actually views those practices as violence against oneself, as acts of ahimsa, which violate the very first yama of yoga. Instead, in this teacher’s mind, real yoga is about adapting to what is present; not subjecting oneself to “the tyranny of stated ideas” [or ideals], but to instead lovingly embrace what is, with full acceptance.
This aim of complete, nonjudgmental acceptance sounds amazingly lovely; but is so crazy-difficult for me to even begin to move towards. And yet, today that’s exactly what I did. In making the decision to leave the house, to set aside my to-do list, and to engage in a seemingly odd “organ movement” practice as openly as possible, I practiced this acceptance of “things as they are”; and experience a small-but-powerful taste of union, of yoga. As much as I initially resisted getting to the studio, today’s experience was just what I needed. And I didn’t even know I needed it – until I had it.