A couple of weekends ago, I visited a couple of friends in Maryland, who basically interviewed me on my yoga practice and experience thus far. I loved the interest they displayed and loved that they had such specific questions that I never really thought about before. But the questions forced me to stop and reflect on why I am really doing this and how it is having an impact on my life.
Since my responses are rather lengthy, I won’t get into a fluffy introduction. So here were the questions and my thoughtful answers:
Q: How does yoga make you present? This seems to be a common word used to describe the outcome of yoga, yet if you really don’t understand the concept, how will yoga help you achieve this?
A: When I’m getting into a pose, whether the pose is for balance or endurance, I have to be 100% present in that moment in order to successfully achieve its outcome and hold the pose. What this means is, if I stand up straight and extend one leg out in front of me and hold it, for example, there are several things happening that are playing a part in my achieving this pose and “forcing” me to direct all my attention to it.
Let’s start with the body. All of my muscles need to be engaged to hold this pose, literally from head to toe. My toes and feet have to be planted firmly on the floor, my standing leg is working to hold me up, so each muscle and limb from my shins to my quads are activated, the exact same goes for the extended leg. Meanwhile, my core (center of the body) is fully engaged as are my arms, neck, shoulders and so on. This is the physical aspect.
Mentally, for each of these muscles to be simultaneously activated and working together requires a lot of mental effort. For me, I personally begin from the bottom and move my way up. I focus on my feet and toes, are my toes spread out? Is my foot flat on the ground? Can I make any adjustments? All set? Comfortable? Great! I then direct the focus to my legs, is there pain from any of this? What muscles can I release a little bit to make this more comfortable? Can I distribute my weight to release any tension? How are my knees? Oh, wait, almost fell there, let’s start all over. What muscle do I need to engage to hold myself together this time? As I move up my body, how is my posture, can I lift my spine a bit more for the balance? Are my shoulders relaxed?
This all sounds like an over analytical mind running a mile a minute to make sure everything is on point, and you’re right! It is! But for me, if those are the thoughts and actions that I’m solely focused on at the moment, how can anything else matter? How can I think about dinner? Or calling my mom? Or what time it is? If I even attempt to glance at the clock, I lose all focus and fall, just to have to start that whole process again.
So to me, being present means that every part of me (both mental and physical) is focused on one thing, I am investing my full awareness to the pose.
Q: How does yoga help you meditate?
A: For the record, I am no expert on meditation. It takes years of practice and I’m still very much a beginner. So I’m offering you the foundation and the stepping stones that are helping me calm my mind. These are just my modest thoughts and opinions. 🙂
So, with the example above in mind, think of the mind as a muscle. The more I stretch and flex it the stronger and more malleable it becomes, right? So if I practice the above once or twice and then forget about it, nothing at all will change. It would be like lifting a weight twice and expecting to see gains. But if I continue to practice, and it doesn’t matter what pose/s I am attempting this with, this applies to all, the more I begin to understand how I am capable of controlling my body and muscles with my mind.
Meaning, if I direct my focus to my feet and toes every day, for example, every time I get into a pose eventually my feet and toes will automatically, without thought or effort, always get into position. It’s like learning to walk. I am teaching my foot how to work for me, rather than against me or apart from me, so to speak. On another level, I am re-programing my foot and therefore gaining control of it through my mind. Does that make sense?
The more I bring awareness to my foot or any one area, the better I become at bringing awareness to my foot, or any one area. The practice is both for the foot to get into position and for the mind to will it to. When I first started this practice I DID think about what time it was, I DID think about dinner and calling my mom, and I DID fall, multiple times. But I kept getting back up and kept trying and kept holding the focus, every day my mind expanded a tiny bit more and became a tiny bit more zoned in and a tiny bit less noisy…and continues to do so.
Another example and also my favorite is while stretching. If I position myself into a split, and it doesn’t matter how low I go, (I’m only using this example because it is an easy pose to describe in writing) just adjust myself in a way that is compatible with my unique physical habits and where I reach my limit; meaning I cannot get any lower because it hurts. I Stay there, and again, scan each muscle one by one starting from one toe and move slowly through to the other and relax each muscle before moving on to the next until that position is a bit more tolerable and I am able to lower down a tiny bit more.
The work is in breaking down the different areas in my body. These pain points are just tension being held in those areas. When my whole body hurts from a stretch, stress signals of “danger” are sent to the brain and the first reaction is to panic and get out of the pose immediately. But I’m not dying, so I stop thinking about the whole body because then it becomes too overwhelming. Instead, I break it down into small manageable parts and steps.
So what does this all have to do with meditation? Well, like I said, I’m not a pro and I’m practicing just to be able to meditate in the first place. But this practice involves mental endurance, and the ability to ignore the noise my mind is pushing on me by placing conscious and intentional awareness on one specific thing.
“Meditation means dissolving the invisible walls that unawareness has built”
Q: How does yoga translate to your personal life?
A: Maybe one day I will have a better explanation for this, but for now here it goes.
When I practice that level of focus and control of my own physical body, it changes me and empowers me. What was uncomfortable before, such as getting into a split, or backbend, I find that eventually, it is no longer the case. Because I not only accomplished these poses physically, but my thoughts also assisted in achieving those results.
And I believe that when you break these physical barriers, it has a direct correlation to similar levels of discomfort in my personal or professional life. When I tap into one realm of discomfort; be it emotional, physical or other, I do believe it expands the rest of the realms of discomfort even if a tiny bit. Additionally, being able to relax a muscle simply by focusing awareness on it, allows me to relax any negative thought patterns once I become aware of their existence in my mind.
To me, this is how my yoga practice has helped me in my life. J
I LOVE these types of questions, so if you have any others, please pass them along because they help me too.