I taught and practiced yoga with a heavy heart this morning. The events of the past 24 hours, with the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords, as well as the deaths and injuries of others with her, weighed heavily on my heart and showed itself in my body. I’ve never wanted my blog to be political and I don’t intend to change that now. But on a human level, the events in Arizona leave me profoundly saddened and deep in thought. As I woke this morning to teach, I wrestled with whether or not to mention anything in class, either before, during or after, even just to acknowledge the sadness of what others might be feeling or even to collectively join in a metta (loving kindness) meditation.
It got me thinking about whether or not the yoga studio should be a refuge from all that occurs in the outside world. When we go to class or when we step on our mat, are we looking for a way to escape? Are we looking to be protected from all that is the reality of the world we live in or are we looking for ways to connect, grow and process our feelings about all these things?
When I first found yoga, it was very shortly after my divorce. I came to the mat mainly because I was challenged by a couple of guy friends, claiming it was the ‘hardest workout they’d ever done.’ I found that over the first few weeks, it stayed that way; a great workout. But once the newness of the practice itself wore off, I got to the task of processing things I hadn’t even realized needed processing. Feelings, emotions, lots of acknowledgments and hard conversations I needed to have with myself but never really took the time to have. I realize now that my yoga practice wasn’t an escape but was instead more of a tool for me to feel and learn more about myself.
Over the years, when things have been tough, be it things in my own life or things outside my life, I found that my established yoga practice has been one of the best things in the world to create a sense of feeling grounded despite the (sometimes) chaos all around me. I find that when I come to the mat, it’s not to escape but instead to connect. The reality is there’s no escaping, really. That relationship you have that’s pushing your buttons, the job you’re struggling with and can’t decide whether or not to leave; the medical test you’re waiting for the results on, the elderly parent you’re worried about leaving home alone. I realize the nature of my yoga practice isn’t to forget about these things but instead to shift my focus to the present. Connecting to the present is like taking a vacation from your thoughts. When you’re really anchored in the here and now, you give yourself a break from all of the logic and self-chatter that robs you from being connected and present.
You never know when people come to class what their personal stories are. Aside from the events of the day and those that generally affect all of us, it’s hard to know what (else) may be on the minds of those that you’re practicing with. But when we come together on the mat, when we start to collectively breathe and move together, we start to shift. We shift from all that weighs us down to being light (er) and more present. And in that shift is a sense of relief as we give our heart and minds a rest from reality. But in that rest, we restore. We fortify. We get stronger physically and mentally. We find that when we step off the mat, we’re standing taller. We listen more. We feel more. We interact with more presence and less reactivity. We find that in that escape, in a way, we’re better armed to face reality.