Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Yoga Again for the First Time

Yesterday morning, in the second session of my new (to me) Hatha yoga class, I found myself considering becoming a Hindu (is there a feminine form of that? a Hindini?). Well, maybe not really a practicing Hindu, since basically all I know about Hinduism is that there are lots and lots of gods and goddesses, and lots and lots of rituals to go with them. And that it started in India and has been around a long long time.

So I found myself feeling deeply grateful for the spiritual and religious tradition from which yoga springs. At least as interpreted gracefully by this particular teacher of the Kripalu "school" of yoga.

I felt myself falling in love on the spot--with yoga's bringing together of masculine and feminine, of body and mind and spirit, of simple yet powerful observations, such as that the "yoga mudra" pose puts one's head lower than one's heart, as if befitting of spiritual wisdom.

Even though I have taken yoga classes off and on (more off than on) over the past ten or fifteen years, something feels different this time. I have a feeling it's not only that I have a different teacher but also that I am a different student. Meaning, I have changed. Something is different about me that makes me much more open to coming to yoga "again for the first time".

The difference between me-and-yoga-now and me-and-yoga-past is a little hard to pin down, nor would it necessarily be in the spirit of yoga or of my present way of being in the world to try too hard to do so, though my analytical mind would like nothing better.

If I had to say, the primary difference is that in the past I have largely approached yoga as a form of "exercise" and with a mindset of disconnect or compartmentalization. That my body might somehow be largely disconnected from other dimensions of my being--mind, spirit, soul. I think the sense of being divided in myself and having "compartments" in my life was much more prominent in former years.

And in approaching yoga as physical exercise, I have, despite knowing that it's not really in the spirit of yoga to compete or compare, been way more concerned with keeping up with the class, with "looking competent" at yoga, with wishing I were more flexible, more adept at remembering one pose from another, at getting things right, at impressing the teacher, at being as good at or secretly even better than my colleagues. And being hard on myself for not being those things.

I don't sense that happening this time. (At least not yet. Now that I've made this claim, we'll see how it goes from here!) What a relief!

Maybe a key factor is that the head of the yoga studio recommended that I start in a Level I class, because it has been a while since my last yoga class and the teacher would be new to me. And something about starting as a beginner really appealed to me! Maybe I felt a slight, teeny weeny bit of offended ego, but not much. That's something new. I don't have to prove myself here. Wow, what an amazing idea.

Much more than that I noticed I felt curious and even excited that I would get to experience allowing myself to be a beginner. To take things gently and slowly and (one can always hope!) mindfully. Not to judge myself for having to start small.

And you know what? I really feel right at home! As if I "belong" in this group. I'm not struggling to keep up (even though most of my peers have worked with this teacher for a while and know the moves better than me). I'm not overly worried about how I look or whether I'm doing it right. Well, most of the time.

Which means I'm there. I'm present, more often than not. Grateful for a practice that is physical as well as attentive to mind and spirit, spiritual as well as physical. That aims to hold body, mind, and spirit together, just as they really are; and that aims to link what you do on your yoga mat with what you do in the rest of your day.

Integration. Union. I think that's what the word "yoga" means.

5 comments:

aderby said...

I have been working with a private yoga teacher once a month; she and I have become friends, we both have children around the same age having similar problems in school. Often she can shed light on coping with these problems from the perspective of the yoga practice. At one point, I was feeling particularly tense, and she said that 'in yoga practice, we learn to maintain tension in one part of the body, while relaxing the rest. I don't know that I was able to do it, but just knowing there was such a principle made me begin to try to incorporate it into my practice and my life.

Sukie Curtis said...

That sounds wonderful--to work one one one once a month.

Your example is just the kind of potential for union or "integration" that I was aware of yesterday, Maybe it's not as accurate to say integrating body mind and spirit as to say integrating the yoga practice with one's whole life.

Like, yesterday my teacher was speaking of the principle of "ahimsa" (Sanskrit for non-violence or doing no harm), and I could see how that could mean doing no harm to my body in the practice on the mat, and doing no harm to myself in the rest of my day (and noticing when I do in various ways), and doing no harm to others.

It's all one life. Or something like that!

Gail Dawson said...

What you wrote reminded me of what Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi described in Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind: being free of 'have to's,' fear, and knowledge. Wonderful post!

Here's a link to a lecture I found on beginner's mind: http://www.intrex.net/chzg/hartman4.htm

Sukie Curtis said...

Thanks for that link, Gail! It adds a lovely dimension to this conversation. I have been thinking about the curiosity of children in relation to "faith" these days--how children often have a "sensed faith" in one's stance toward life without needing there to be anything expressed in words or doctrines. How we complicate things as we grow older!

It has reminded me of Marcus Borg's terms, "precritical naivete" and "postcritical naivete". That he used in regard to a faith before and after rigorous scholarly investigation. But I think they work well too for what may be related to matters of "faith"--as stance toward life rather than as what your mind can or cannot do with theological concepts.

Maybe it should be "pretheological naivete" and "post-theological naivete"!

Anyway, Beginner's mind and Not Knowing beckon...

Sukie

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