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Published: August 21st 2015
Sitting in yoga class, my knees up to my ears when they're supposed to be touching the ground, wrists like limp noodles stretching towards the mat, and my neck bent in on itself in shame, I'm humbly reminded that some things are indeed harder to do than they first appear. I'm supposed to connect movement to my breath, but first I have to actually breathe, which I catch myself forgetting how to do. Inhaling deeply through the nose, my eyes wander to the roll of my stomach and my mind to what I had to eat this morning, tallying up the carbs and fats; I throw myself a bone by acknowledging I bypassed the chocolate croissant that would have gone perfectly with my coffee, which then brings about the thought of the Snickers I bought on sale at the super market and gave to my roommate for his breakfast yesterday but which he then returned with interest by giving me a Snickers and M&M's so now I had twice the chocolate I started with; which leads to the thought that M&M's really are a crap candy, with all that food coloring but of course there's the brown ones and I should just eat those because chocolate is already brown and wasn't that in a movie with Lopez and McConaughey? and mmmmmmmmMcConaughey........ and before you know it I forget all about the exhaling. I rip my thoughts back into the empty space I'm supposed to be occupying, my palms suddenly clammy and my shoulders even more tense (which truly, I hadn't thought was possible). I hear the soft steps of the teacher heading in my direction, a gentle hand on my shoulder and a quiet whisper, "Relax, the depth will come."
People approach yoga for a million and one different reasons. I lean towards the idea that it's voluntary torture, but this doesn't prevent me (for the most part) from participating. From the few short weeks in which I've been involved, I've learned more about my body and how it moves, discovering my stubbornness is not only in character but in joints and tendons as well. "You think you can put me in that position," say my hips sardonically, "but you are sorely mistaken!" (Pun intended.) My left side is more resistant than my right, but sometimes out of sheer spite the latter will cramp up and leave me looking even more like an uncordinated beached whale trying to catch its tail in its mouth. I've learned the difference between a three part breath and a regular one, expanding my lungs to their full capacity to the point they'd burst out of my chest if they could. I've Om'd it, tentatively at first but then with gusto, feeling the vibrations in my chest and I've thanked my obstinate body for the effort it's put forth to return me to this place -- all in hopes of connecting to a Oneness.
By oneness I mean mind, body, and spirit. Traveling solo gives you a lot of time to reflect, but at the same time the very act of traveling can serve as a distraction. You get so caught up with where you've been and where you're trying to get to, and how you're going to get there that the here and now becomes an afterthought. There needs to be a place of connection (or reconnection, if you like) where you know the state of your mind, what your body is feeling, and the level of your spirit. What does it physically and emotionally feel/look like when you're happy or sad? What does it mean to be you, to answer to your name? What arouses passion? laughter? tears? anger? Simple questions, but sometimes the answers are taken for granted.
Rumi calls this oneness "body intelligence", which is linked to both the physical and spiritual sides of each unique existence. It is similar to yoga's constant return to the space occupied by the breath, the one action that anchors each of us to this specific moment and place.
"You and your body's intelligence are like the beauty and precision of an astrolobe. Together, you calculate how near existence is to the sun." -Rumi, "Body Intelligence 1"
Observing the breath, using it to explore the physical awareness of the body as well as using it to move beyond the physical and into a spiritual understanding is how yoga helps lead us to this oneness.
"Your intelligence is marvelously intimate. It is not in front of you or behind, or to the left or right." -Rumi, "Body Intelligence 1"
It doesn't matter that the 60+ year old woman to my right can draw her legs over her head like she's about to lick the lint out of her bellybutton or that the slim, toned bronze legs of the instructor look like Michelangelo's secret fantasy as they swing into a lunge, or even that my own foot is miles away from ever reaching my desperate, outstretched fingers. What's important, rather, is that I am grounded in the actual moment, that my mind is listening and observing my body, that my body is aware of pressure and points of tension, and that my spirit is open to the challenge and expansion of the practice. There is infinite space between the woman's tongue and her own navel and between my own hand and foot; and every inch deserves to be traveled and acknowledged.
"Keep wanting the connection with presence with all your pulsing energy. The throbbing vein will take you further than any thinking. " -Rumi, "Body Intelligence 2"
With body intelligence, with this space between and a part of the physical and spiritual planes, it's important to steer clear of labeling, judging, or categorizing. So what if my hips dont touch the mat and my shoulders don't pull away from my neck while my toes are active (whatever that means)? Who cares that my half pigeon pose looks more like an amputated wing or that my eagle arms look as if I'm doing the chicken dance? Just because I didn't come out of the womb doing the splits doesn't mean that I can't anchor to this experience or that my connection is any less pure. There is not one way to experience a oneness, just like there isn't just one way to practice yoga. The intention is not to support a predetermined theory about Oneness, but rather to experience the thing itself.
"Do not theorize about essence. All speculations are just layers of covering. Human beings love coverings. They think the designs on the curtains are what is being concealed." -Rumi, "Body Intelligence 2"
And so I sit there in class, my joints aching where I didn't know an ache could exist, a soreness in the slightest bend of the knee, sweat pooling in the small of my back, my mind at odds between a chocolate covered McConaughey and the space between thoughts and all I do is exist in the moment. I inhale and exhale, following the path of air as it fills stomach, ribs, and chest and escapes in the reverse sequence. There is no place I have to be, nothing I have to do, no one is counting on me. There is nothing but me, in the here and now and however this Oneness chooses to reveal itself, I will accept and observe and know that I am where I need to be. Knowing too that, with practice, depth will indeed come.
"Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Do not claim them. Feel the artistry moving through, and be silent." -Rumi, "Body Intelligence 2"
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