Yoga is different than any other thing I have ever done. It requires me to zero in on just the thing I am there to do- nothing else can distract. It starts by making us leave our worldly distractions at the door-phone, purse, everything else we brought in with us stays in the locker room, and we are only allowed to bring in what’s necessary for the class: our towel, mat, & water bottle. We even shed our shoes! Barefoot! One of my fave new things in life is to shed my shoes no matter where I am- in worship, in my home, in the yard, wherever. Something so simple has the ability to reconnect me with my childhood and take me back to a place I can’t ever tangibly return. But it also signifies for me losing my inhibitions-my rules for play and my worries about the “what ifs!” And believe me, yoga has a few of its own rules for play.
Yoga is all about:
- being still and quiet
- breathing deeply and exhaling completely
- focusing in on your own body, mind, & soul and seeing what it can do
- balancing every part of your body in awkward positions and striving for another level of balance each try
- stretching beyond your means and then as the instructor so calmly says in the midst of my personal pain-stretching still further (grimace face)
These five components are changing every other part of my life.
1-Be still and quiet.
Getting used to being in a ridiculously large home, bed, and life without a husband has forced me into the world of quiet and still. It is a new world for me. I do not know why I was never able to be alone or be in the quiet. It is one of life’s mysteries. In the past, even when I had the opportunity for solitude, I would phone a friend, turn on the television, the radio, or go to a crowded place. People are my thrive. Somehow I think very early in life, I saw myself in light of other people and found my identity in how I interacted with them. Maybe occasion wasn’t there for me to be redirected intelligently or enough conversations not available to challenge me to know myself apart from others; whatever the cause, I just never learned how to be alone. And Quiet? Well, I can vividly remember many a dinner table conversation when I was a teenager in which my dad would interrupt me and say, “Tammy, shut up. We need a little quiet.” Maybe not his finest moment, but if you knew my dad’s temperament, clearly this was only due to the fact that he couldn’t deal with any more of my all-important stories.
2-Breathe deep and exhale completely.
I’ve seen old people having to use breathing machines, trying hard to get one ounce of breath. Since realizing my marriage was in trouble at the level it was, I have had to deal with this for the first time ever. Breathing in and out is hard work when you can’t slow down and concentrate. In yoga, it is part of the commanding of yourself, calming yourself, easing into the next hour. In my particular class, Hot Yoga, the temperature is sauna-like and most definitely breathing is another level of challenge. In fact the first three weeks, I literally would put my mouth on the floor and try to suck in any moment of oxygen I could find. This is frowned upon. You have to be still and try to breathe in one breath for ten counts and then slowly as possible, let it out for ten more. 10! It’s as though I’ve just smoked a carton of cigs just before going in. I hold my hands just like she says, I start breathing and counting, 1..2..3..4..That’s it. That’s all I got. I have to hold my breath til she starts counting the exhale and then 10, 9, 8, …that’s it. Mine’s out. I will definitely have to keep working on the skill of breathing. I know someday though, I will get to the top of it at 10, and be able to let it out for ten and when that happens, folks, I’m heading straight to the Marble Slab for a little reward.
3 & 4-Focus & Balance
The instructor says, “Find a spot and stare at it without breaking your focus; you should not move your eyes or head or you will break focus and fall out of the pose.” Breaking focus causes you to lose your balance and fall out of position. These two are dependent upon one another. You must choose one to have the other. Transfer that to every other part of our lives, namely our relationship to Christ. If I take my eyes off of Him, I lose my balance. I start falling out of position immediately, not eternally of course, for we know we are securely tucked away in Christ forever. (Colossians) But my balance of life becomes altered. I begin to try to make up for my lack of balance with other stances that I take on to manage the momentary loss of position-other things I align with that may or may not be the best pose for me to assume. I naturally begin to grab on to things around me to stabilize myself (and make me feel less awkward or less alone)-but often they are faulty structures and I fall anyway. In yoga, there is nothing else to hold onto when you break focus and fall out of position- you just have to keep reattempting the position until that beautiful moment you accomplish it( even if only for a second) or praise the Lord, the instructor moves on to call out a new pose and you are rescued from multiple defeats until a later day. A side note here is that a solid rule in the yoga room is that there is to be no talking. (the quiet thing again) However, I have realized how this is actually encouraging when you fail. No one says anything nor even acknowledges your lack; everyone is focused in on their own attempting. So you are on your own to keep on trying for your own personal growth- no one else to blame or give credit to apart from yourself. I find this very refreshing.
5-Stretch beyond your means, and then stretch still further!
I cannot stress enough how this one piece is the TRUTH of life when it is ridiculous. This little peanut of an instructor is no sweet thing. She is so much the drill sergeant. She looks sweet, but oh, let me tell you. She is curt, strong voiced, and intense. She will call you out if your position needs correction. She will tell you to change what you are doing, and she will not smile to relieve your strain or embarrassment. She is about 22 years old, maybe. She is not warm or fuzzy; she is focused on her job and she is doing it. That’s it. She is not their marketing babe; she is the one who brings the heat to Hot Yoga. Enough said about her. When she has you move one hip forward right, “turn the other hip toward the mirror, more, more, still more, further, further, (about here is where I think, “really? you gotta be kiddin’ me, chick have a heart!) more, still further, your side should be hurting right now, still further, stretch….” I wish I was joking; this is the moment it is all about. Life does not play fair, or nice, or easy. Life plays hard. Life has moments of joy. Life has moments of great. Life sucks. All of it- all the time and all mixed up and requires us to stretch still further even when it hurts (because it is supposed to) and still further, keep on stretching, more, more, and stop. It has nipped whining in the bud. It has quieted my complaining. It has silenced me from voicing my fears. It has called me to another level of self-awareness and as soon as I revert to any or all of those weaknesses, I am shut down in the moment to assume a new position. I begin to work it forward and then back again to its origin…Get quiet, get still, find my balance, focus on one spot only, the one right in front of me, reposition, stretch still further, focus, try again, remain still, and be quiet.
God said it this way, “Be still and Know that I am God. Yes, I left out meditation from my yoga story. It is not really so much part of the Hot Yoga I do. They really never even talk of it in my regular class. I believe it is my take on the whole experience. I know that God has invited me into relationship with Him and in order to have the balanced life I need to keep on stretching, more, more, and still further, I will have to submit my entire being to His will and to His direction. It is the foundation of my faith. Yoga has just given me something tangible to help me remember the pieces of it. I must take time each morning, first thing, to get still, quiet myself in His presence, breathe deeply in his Spirit, focus on the spot He directs me to in the scriptures, (have a cup of coffee-my water bottle), strive for another level of balance in all my awkward poses, right my position in Christ before going into my day’s work, and then proceed to stretch even further until…wait for it…SEVASANA. It is that blessed time at the end of every class when that little sergeant calls out “sevasana” which literally means, “corpse pose” and you get to lie still, release every position, assume a completely relaxed state and just lie there open palmed to the sky, and feet fall open. It is glorious. Not gonna lie. I just want to close my eyes and go to sleep, but that is not allowed. Little girl instructor would not be okay with that, no way.
It all has an end to which we must decide is ours from the beginning. To know God and enjoy Him. This is our entire goal in life right from the catechism: Q: What is the chief end of man? A: Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. The paradox of this to me is that in order to do that, we must die to self. We must rest in the Savior who came, so that we may have life. That is it-an ultimate resting that requires death to this life, so that we may enjoy Him forever, both now and eternally. Christ died the ultimate death, and now He lives in and through us and becomes our position before a holy God. We can trust our position in Him, no matter how ridiculous life becomes around us or for us. Though it is sometimes a hard truth to live out and daily we want to serve our flesh, we must trust that He alone brings us balance, peace, true joy, and abundant life. That is it…exhale…3…2…1. Now, rest in Him. Class over. Sevasana Deo.