Sunday, August 17, 2008

Revelations from the mat

When I was a student writing papers for school and when I was a reporter writing articles for a newsmagazine, I would sometimes go to bed anxious because I couldn't figure out how to finish whatever I was working on. I needed a unifying theme or a killer punch line or an apt example or a clever title or a tricky transition or a dynamite tie-it-all-together conclusion—sometimes all of the above. I would worry about going to sleep without finishing the job. But sometimes, magically, I would dream the missing parts, and when I woke up, if I wrote them down quickly, before they evaporated from memory, they were—incredibly—perfect.

Sometimes in yoga, something similar happens. I'll come into my practice twisted with anxiety or guilt or anger or stress or some unresolved conflict. In the course of stretching, twisting, flexing, releasing, inverting, balancing and focusing on my breath, I'll notice that a physical technique I'm using has a psychological counterpart. Instead of yanking on my feet in a forward bend to stretch my tight hamstrings, for example, I'll notice that if I back off and micro-bend my knees, my hamstrings will ease. And suddenly, it will come to me—right there on the mat—that I can apply the same principle to some unyielding situation I've been confronting in my home life, perhaps a standoff between myself and my daughter C. And it will work: a little flexibility not necessarily on the issue that is straining our relationship will dissolve the tension.

Or standing on my head, I'll realize that some conundrum I've been puzzling over suddenly makes sense if I examine at it from another vantage point, turn it on its head, look at it upside down.

Or I'll realize that in wrenching my spine into a deeper twist I'm compressing my vertebrae rather than opening them, so I need to concentrate on straightening my spine rather than torquing it, and somehow that will clarify to me that in my personal life I need to let go of a goal, relax and focus on the process.

So much of what you aim for in yoga is just a concrete corollary of the more subjective qualities you strive for in the rest of your life: balance, flexibility, strength, stability. And practicing these skills in the physical domain of yoga hones their counterparts in the mental sphere of work and the emotional arena of home.

So yoga becomes not just acrobatics at the gym. It's life itself.

Try it. Really, you'll like it.

No comments: