Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Melting into the mat

Yoga. Another word on my cool list. Here's what Wikipedia has to say:

"Yoga (Sanskrit, Pāli: योग, yoga) is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline, originating in ancient India.[1][2] The goal of yoga, or of the person practicing yoga, is the attainment of a state of perfect spiritual insight and tranquility while meditating on the Hindu concept of divinity or Brahman.[3] The word is associated with meditative practices in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism.[4][5][6]"

Wikipedia goes on:

"The Sanskrit word yoga has the literal meaning of "yoke", from a root yuj meaning to join, to unite, or to attach."

Yuj. Attach. Join. Unite.

I like that concept. I've always felt that yoga unites my physical body with my spiritual soul.

If you read and remember my new year post on things I wanted to work on some more this year, Stretch more was on my list. I work my body hard and realize I expect a lot from it. I sometimes take it for granted. Our bodies are hard-working machines that deserve tender love and care, and some fine-tuning here and there, if you will. We can't work the same muscles the same way every day. We need to mix things up and feed our physical self with spiritual balance, along with new physical and mental challenges.

So I've been working since the new year on this "stretch more" goal. And I also started an eight-week session of yoga classes tonight. I recognize that if I want to dance like no one is watching and hike for adventure with the intensity I like, I need to stretch more to keep my body efficient and powerful. I know I feel better when I'm balanced. How do I know? I learned my first, most important yoga lesson many years ago. And I've revisited that experience many times over the years. And now's the time to remind myself again.

The first yoga class I attended is probably about twenty years ago at this point. I may not recall the exact day, but I remember vividly the details of that experience. I didn't know what to expect in that first hour, but I was certainly open to the experience.

Twenty years younger and twenty years less wise, I remember I was stressed that day about something that today I'd consider "small stuff," as in "don't sweat the small stuff." Of course, at that time the issue seemed monumental and I allowed it to be all-consuming. It's amazing how hindsight and age put issues such as these in perspective.

Fortunately for me I decided to try a yoga class that day at my gym. I found it was an interesting workout that challenged me in new ways. The class was surprisingly demanding for the aerobic step queen I was at that time. My only previous knowledge of yoga was seeing it on TV or maybe in a film. Stereotypes proliferated as the media portrayed those partaking in yoga as drug-induced, spacey hippies who lived to meditate.

The positions or asanas held looked so easy, like little or no effort was required. What I learned that day was that holding those poses was no easy feat. Sitting still with yourself was no easier. And meditation was not a piece of cake when you allowed silly worries and concerns to race through your mind. It quickly became evident that yoga required practice and discipline.

Although I had fancied myself on that first day as strong and "in shape," those smoothly flowing and unassuming poses used different muscles that I had not been flexing. The asanas required a covert strength and poised balance that challenged the essence of my being. Barely moving, I was astounded that yoga made me sweat.

But the most telling revelation of that first class was saved for the end in a pose that I've come to anticipate and relish. My favorite time in class then and now is the restorative pose called Savasana  (shah-VAHS-anna), sava meaning corpse.

After all the hard work and concentration required during the class, the ultimate reward for your body is this neutral position. It's a welcome release quieting your physical body as your instructor quietly guides your self-awareness, prompting you to let go of all the tension you're holding from your fingertips to your toes. calls out that "in addition to quieting the physical body in Savasana, it's also necessary to pacify the sense organs. Soften the root of the tongue, the wings of the nose, the channels of the inner ears, and the skin of the forehead, especially around the bridge of the nose between the eyebrows. Let the eyes sink to the back of the head, then turn them downward to gaze at the heart. Release your brain to the back of the head."

Wow! Do you ever really think about the tension you hold in your tongue, nose, eyes or brains? Deep stuff, but if you really listen to the instructor and think about these body parts, you start to feel that you're letting go of tensions in all these areas. You transcend all the worries of your day and begin to drift into a state of calm and bliss.

"I can do this. I'm lucky to be on this earth. All will be okay. Life is good." Your inner voice speaks softly and assures you.

It's an amazing feeling, an amazing release for your body and mind.

YogaJournal also calls out these:

Benefits of Savasana

  • Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression
  • Relaxes the body
  • Reduces headache, fatigue, and insomnia
  • Helps to lower blood pressure

The bottom line is that this pose is the best five minutes you could ever spend on your body and soul.*

Basically, on that very first day in yoga class, I felt like I literally melted into the mat. All tension released from every inch of my body. It was an awesome experience I'll never forget.

So tonight, I'm back at my practice. To top it all, my hubby joined me for his very first ever yoga class, so this is one more fun thing we can do together. Before he committed to sign up for the eight weeks, hubby asked if he would be the only guy in class. I answered truthfully. Maybe yes, maybe not.

As it turned out, he was the only gentleman in class tonight.  He handled it gracefully, didn't bat an eye, and worked very hard as the newbie he knew he was. I sensed his newfound awareness that I felt on my first day. Yoga is not as easy as it looks. Yoga is not for the faint of heart...or for those too fearful to let go and release all the worries they hold tight within. I give hubby credit for trying this out and my wish for him is that he sticks with it and experiences all the benefits yoga has to offer.

With tonight's restart at my yoga practice did I experience the amazing release of the very first class I took twenty years ago? Can't say I did, but then again, how easy is it to recapture how you felt the first time you did anything?

But it was satisfying nonetheless. And the practice illustrated for me that I have some work ahead of me. No matter how strong I feel from my everyday exercise routines, and even with all the stretching I've done since the new year, I know I can still benefit from the asanas of yoga practice. My body needs this. My soul craves it.

This realization begs the question: Will I ever reach some state of nirvana with spiritual insight and tranquility through meditation? I don't know for sure, but I can only wish. I do know, though, that I'm a work in progress that needs to practice a lot more than I have in these past twenty years since nothing worthwhile ever comes easy.
Namaste, I bow to you, Dalai Lama.

Last but not least, I like the final word in yoga class...Namaste.

Namaste, meaning "I bow to you" and "You bow to me." Holding your hands at the "heart chakra" represents the belief that there is divinity in each of us.

I like the idea of that, too. I like a gesture that signifies the acknowledgment of the soul in one by the soul in another.

My wish for you today and always is that you may find peace and tranquility, melting into the mat.

Until next time, yours in balance and spirituality...Therese


*You don't need to take a class to practice Savasana or any yoga pose. You can do these any time on your own. Check out for more information.

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