I went to a 75 minute Moksha yoga class on Tuesday night after not going for over a week, and I am not sure if it was just that, or the heat, or the humidity, or what I ate or didn’t eat/drink that day, but it ended up being one of the most intense classes I have had for a long time. I was going to write that it was the “hardest”, but I have learned that as far as yoga goes, that is not really a word I would like to use in this context.
Within the first 30 minutes or so of the class I started to feel very nauseous and decided to rest it out in child’s pose. I slowed down my heart beat through my breath and although was not feeling 100% decided to get back up to complete the last of the standing series by doing Tree Pose. As soon as I stood up, I lost my vision for a fraction of a second, everything went sort of spinny, and I decided that lying down in Savasana was definitely the way to go. At this point my heart was beating so fast that I actually felt serious panic about what was going on. I tried to calm my body down by making my exhales longer than my inhales (a trick I learned from a teacher that helps calm the nervous system), and while I eventually was able to do this, for a few minutes I was having a mini-freak out on my mat. This, my friends, hasn’t happened in years. I was able to complete the floor series without too many difficulties, but ended up thinking about the class for much of my night.
One of the reasons I really like yoga is that it is so much more than a physical activity. It is a great training ground for ego management and mindfulness practice. A lot of my teachers remind their classes almost on a daily basis that yoga is a practice, it is not something that will ever be perfect because every day the practice is different. Or, alternatively, everyday is the perfect practice because it is what it is on that day. This is actually the same way I was taught to think about meditation. Part of the way yoga works to control the ego is through focusing on the present and on your own body, forgetting the past (“I was able to go deeper yesterday” or “I felt so strong last time, and now feel so weak”) and stopping comparisons with others in the room, which I will admit is difficult to do, but gets easier with time. One of the most difficult things to do, especially for those starting out, is taking breaks and lying down while the class keeps going. I know that personally I used to worry about looking weak. Now, although those thoughts may still pop up from time to time, I choose to focus on how great it is to know my body well enough to know that it needs rest. That today is not a day to push. Alternatively, I now know when I do feel strong and can find and push on my edges without doing harm.
While I was lying on my mat, my heart and mind racing, but my body lying in stillness, I remembered a quote I once heard comparing someone to a duck floating on water: “calm on the surface, paddling like the dickens underneath”. Yep, that was me alright. Although through meditation and yoga I am trying to calm the paddling before it ever gets to the “dickens” level, I am happy to report that it seems like I have learned enough self-awareness to be able to quickly calm myself and return to a more comfortable level should it ever progress to that point. This yoga class was just one example over the past several months, where I have felt either physically or emotionally (it’s all one and the same really) that things were getting too fired up and was able to step back and stop knee jerk reactions. It reminds me of what S.N. Goenka says on the last day of the Vipassana course. Meditation, the search for self-awareness, is a life-long journey and we cannot be disappointed with ourselves for not getting immediate perfect results. But what we will begin to start witnessing is our mind behaving differently 1 time out of 10 and that will be enough fodder to keep going because eventually the number will climb to 2, 3, maybe 4…
I can say from the most honest of places, that even that 1 time feels incredible. When I can break out of my habitual patterns of thought or action and become aware of the moment instead, while behaving accordingly with compassion for myself or others, it is a great feeling. The work is paying off.
On the topic of yoga, here is a good little short article I came across recently that I enjoyed called “How to Heal Body Image Struggles with Yoga“.