Beyond the Mat

To know the truth we have to deepen ourselves, and not merely widen the surface.

~ Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan

From the sidelines of a yoga class it may appear that touching the crown of the head with the pinkie toe is the pinnacle of practice. After all, how is yoga different from any other type of fitness regime? The two elements on which this answer depends are the teacher and the student — and their intention. Okay, maybe this makes four elements, but regardless, it’s this mojo that determines the direction of the experience and it’s the individual that brings it.

The process of Yoga has the potential to move the body in a different way but this is only the beginning. Asanas (postures) are designed to influence the expansion of space, not just in the body but also within our thoughts. In this way, how we experience life also begins shifting in a new direction.

When we first begin a mat practice it’s all we can do to find our feet when instructed. However, as confidence and comfort (yes, this does develop over time) begin to expand as does our ability to concentrate on the nuances within each pose. Deepening into a particular stretch does not refer merely to increasing mobility or strengthening muscles but our ability to focus as we develop the freedom to explore the subtle fluctuations within the body and mind.

Our practice becomes juicy when our experience on the mat begins taking on the rhythm of a guided meditation. Flowing with a bit more assurance, our initial feelings of uncertainty evaporate into something different. Postures that once generated inklings of mild loathing become an opportunity to observe our bodies and minds from a place of relative ease.

The mat becomes our safe place. Creating the unwavering foundation beneath us to continue expanding beyond our boundaries, each session uncoils a fresh opportunity to open to our true selves without judgment or fear. Supported in this journey, gradually, we begin penetrating deep pockets of clarity from within.

These gentle openings establish healthy, grounded connections with our bodies and beliefs. It can only happen gradually, with patience and loving acceptance that no matter what we find, it’s going to be okay. Over time this process is what equips us with the authentic stability we need to move with life’s challenges, not merely cope with them.

We discover our true selves.

Together on a planet with billions of other people, we are engaged in a singular game. Our shared experiences are truly known from only one perspective and Yoga is one method of discovering the depth of these perceptions. With the guidance of those who have walked this path before us, there is a clear direction.

It begins with taking the first step. If we believe we are walking into an exercise class, this is the benefit we reap. If we believe we are stepping into something more, this is also what we experience. No right or wrong; merely a difference of perception — a perception that morphs and changes with every breath. 

~ by Christine Fowle (Lewiston, NY)

~ Photo: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh 2014

Angry on the Mat

Hi. My name is Christine and Utkatasana makes me angry.

You may be wondering what an Utkatasana is. In English, it’s chair pose, a Yoga asana (posture) that has us bending the knees, shins perpendicular to the ground, butt dropped down and the arms straight up in the air. Sound like fun?

Why on earth would someone put us into this pose? Ever?

Let’s approach this with another question: If our experiences on the mat and the [meditation] pillow are considered preparatory for the tests of the outside world, what types of emotions should we feel?

At first glance, it may not seem fathomable that a sequence of stretching, reaching, breath-work and bending could actually prepare us to better handle the situations in our lives. That’s because this isn’t Yoga, at least not in its entirety. Better described, Yoga is discovered within the degree of awareness and intention applied, not just to the performance of asana, but in all that we do.

These elements of intention and awareness not only bridge the chasm separating asana from exercise, but also tap into an inner wellspring of wisdom and insight, heightening the engagement we experience within our own lives. Beyond the movements, touching this power is where we begin the exploration of this depth of perception. For those of us that still believe the poses are the ultimate goal, all it takes is a subtle adjustment — and voila, we find Yoga.

Shifting the focus from body to mind may not always manifest as a delightful scent of jasmine in full bloom. But this is the challenge we accept every time we place a foot upon the mat. This is the practice — developing fortitude, strength, acceptance and forgiveness. It all happens here.

Ultimately, the anger experienced in Utkatasana does not come from the pose. It doesn’t come from the teacher and it isn’t emanating from the space surrounding my body. It comes from inside of me. And solely, it is my decision what to do with it.

This art of living deliberately unfolds as we merge the lessons from the mat and the pillow into our daily lives. Stepping into a space that awakens us to our highest nature we discover — it’s the outside world that provides the most difficult tests. The mat and pillow are merely where we study.

~ Namaste