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Friday, December 05, 2008


Me and the yoga mat are supposed to be one. Did you know that? I suppose if you've been practicing yoga for a bit, then you probably do. But it's all new to me. The last 30 days have brought me into a brand new experience in life. I think at "our age," we tend to shy away from new opportunities and experiences. It's hard to press into something new. Difficult to make one's self want to be tested. And sometimes, we think we know it all by this point in our lives. There is no starting class or precursor for yoga. I just started right in by going to class at the gym we've started going to. My friend Melanie had been after me for many months to get my skinny white back end into the gym...and especially to yoga. Specifically to help me with my lower back issues. But it's ushered me into a completely different realm of thinking and being. Here's a sampling of what I've heard over the last 30 days:

Your mat is a sanctuary *** Your body is more than skin and bones *** Let your breath bring life inside of you *** Nothing else matters except the next 60 minutes *** Does your diet match your values? *** Let your breath swirl in the back of your throat *** Release the built-up tension into the universe *** Become one with your mat *** Adho Mukha Svanasana (one of the most common poses) *** Press your toes deep into the earth *** Open yourself up to the sky *** Be present in this moment *** Are you present in your own life? *** Do you participate in your own life and community or are you a bystander? *** Chaturanga Dandasana *** We're going to put our Parasympathetic Nervous System (rest and repose) into practice for the next hour *** We're going to allow our Sympathetic Nervous System (fight and flight responses) rest for the next hour *** Bring your hands to heart center *** Numerous different yoga poses ***
I've had a few people ask me if it's easier to do yoga being thinner than heavier. My answer is that it may be, but not necessarily. I have also been asked if there are such things as beginner courses. I have not run into any, but I believe there may be in yoga-specific studios....not typically at the public gym level. In spite of being on the thin side, I have to clearly admit that my body has been pushed to do things that I never thought I could -- and that there are still things I am unable to do with very much beauty or flow. It has tested my balance, my centering abilities, and my ability to focus on a single point. It is a nearly continual test of blocking out my day -- what I've done before class and what I will do afterwards. It is nearly impossible to do many of the poses while thinking about how rough one's life is or how badly we think we've been treated. We are reminded for the whole hour, over and over, about breathing.....slowly, deeply, in and out.

We don't "do" yoga. We "practice" yoga. Much as our lives are a journey of practicing. Over and over. I still have trouble keeping my focus. I find myself thinking about errands or things that have to be done. I do my conscious best to NOT look at the clock in the room....and I'm pretty good at that. (Except that today I found myself thinking about a very hot pair of boots that my honey and I found last week....he really wants them....but if they were in black, they would so be on my feet right now...except that yoga is done barefoot....which I love). I look down at my toes and see them pushed into the mat so deeply that I think they may go through it. And that makes me happy. To have this one hour of pushing my body behond its limits and make it do something it doesn't want to do. And I think of this friend in New York and this friend in Florida (sorry if there are others I've forgotten) who also practice yoga and how much it sort of brings us together in this unique experience....makes me feel like we have this ethereal common denominator that unites us. I hear the instructor's voice saying to push myself, to test my abilities, to do something that I have never done before. And I push a little harder at that point. The testing of one's soul, mental capabilities, and the pushing of one's physical limits is an experience hard to put into words. But if you've done it or been there, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

But one of the coolest things I've learned is the word Namaste. If you're not familiar with it, you should be. We all should be. In yoga, namasté is said to mean "The light in me honors the light in you," as spoken by both the yoga instructor and yoga students. I had no idea what gibberish they were all saying the first time I went to class. It is said at the end of class when we're all seated, legs folded, hands at heart center, eyes closed. And the instructor utters "Namaste." And all of the students utter it back. Silly and simple, I suppose. But, on the other hand, it actually has the potential to change entire relationships, families, and even nations. One can only hope. Wouldn't it be funny if a simple yoga practice were the single thing that could change our entire universe?


annie said...

"namaste". what language is this? is it exclusive to yoga? the world could be a much more serene place with things like yoga and 12-steps. i love the calming thoughts you've invoked, brother, and the serenity of your words. namaste!

Anonymous said...

I love this term! I heard it about a year ago when an acquaintance from church shared it with me. Well, he just "said" it to me and then I had to go look it up. Here's what I had found:
"I honor the place in you
in which the entire Universe dwells, I honor the place in you
which is of Love, of Truth, of Light and of Peace,
When you are in that place in you,
and I am in that place in me,
we are One."
Very cool stuff! Glad to be reminded of this term today!

Birdie said...

Namaste is a lovely concept that honors both parties in the expression. How do you pronounce it? (Webster's doesn't have it.)

Laurie said...

Yoga....Nope....My body couldn't
do that if it was paid to....My
knees were crying as I read your
post....Nope...Yoga is not for me..
And becoming one with the mat for
me means it'll probably stick to
my thighs....Just the way my luck
runs sometimes.....

I'm really glad you're going to the
gym and keeping in shape....


Anonymous said...

Your closing remark has me picturing Nancy Pelosi and Larry Craig going at it on the yoga mat. Egads!

Ur-spo said...

you inspire me to get back into my own practice - I felt so much better in mind and limb with regular yoga. I miss my teacher so.

Robert said...

"The light in me honors the light in you!" That is so beautiful!! I know about Namaste, but never the true meaning. We all need to use it more often!!

xo, r

Nathan said...

I'm so excited that you know what namaste means now :)

I like to say it at completely inappropriate times. Like during Thanksgiving travel, I would get irritated with other drivers on the road and yell "Namaste!!!" at them. Completely out of context, but endless fun... at least for me.

Anyway, namaste, Lewis.

Geoff said...

Weirdly enough, I've been tossing around the notion of taking up yoga....and I was wondering if there were beginner's classes too, lol. Not sure if I could just walk in a class with a matt ....though who knows? Your point about not wanting to experience new things really hit home.

cb said...

dude, I LOVE yoga... too bad I never take classes in it. I sorta do it on my own. Or with Wii fit! Ha!

Breathing is so important-- its my mantra. Just breathe.

"Nah-mas-tay" to you

michael said...

Great post.

I've practiced Hatha yoga, off and on, for years and love it.

NAMASTE holds special meaning for me and am overjoyed that it has touched you as well.

Hope you keep enjoying the challenges and joys of yoga.


Blair said...

Though I have not joined you in practicing Yoga yet, I have learned much by listening about your experiences. To watch the changes in you and to know for one hour a day, a couple of days each week you have a place of peace in your life. Quiet, solitude, balance and oneness.

The light in my life and in so many other peoples is brighter for knowing you. We honor that.

Doug said...

I'm glad you're getting into it. There are definitely beginner yoga classes out there. I teach one, another teacher at my gym teaches one, and our yoga studio has several.

Namaste, my friend.

David said...

I'm late to this party, but "namaste" is Sanskrit, and it is pronounced with an equal emphasis on each of the three syllables: Nah-Mah-Stay.

It was defined to me as "the divinity in me bows to the divinity in you." A lovely way to acknowledge the holiness of each of us.