I love yoga. The stretching, burning, twisting, intensity and calm of it. About 9.875 times out of 10, it makes me feel better about life. Since moving to Worcester almost a year ago, I hadn’t found a good yoga place. Instead, I sometimes take classes offered at my rock climbing gym. They’re not quite like the Vinyasa and Ashtanga classes I was used to and didn’t ever feel like enough of a challenge. But a new teacher recently started at the gym and I liked her energy during last Saturday’s class. Fortunately, she had also taken over Thursday evenings, so I planned to go back tonight.
About 45 minutes before class, I was tired of waiting around for it to start (it wasn’t until 7:30 p.m.! Time for me to start settling into “30 Rock” on Netflix!) So I considered practicing at home. Then I banged my already bruised knee (from an aggressive Frisbee game last weekend) on the wooden frame of my borrowed bed. I was so angry that it had happened yet again, and felt intense pain that was coursing through nerves all the way down to my ankle. It seemed like an excuse to return to my couch.
But 30 minutes kater, it seemed like the pain subsided enough for yoga-ing. And it was about that time to head to class anyway, so off I went.
The studio was hot – like the ones I’d missed from my Michigan gym — and the lights were dim. The music was mellow and we got started. I felt surprisingly strong, going deeper and deeper into lunges, deeply inhaling and exhaling during sun salutations.
As the hour drew to a close, I felt that my body had gotten stronger all over. We laid in our resting poses and I focused on my breathing, remembering this morning routine I used to have (somehow inspired by Jason Mraz and his mindfulness) where I’d deeply inhale and exhale while lying in bed, imagining energy traveling through all my limbs. I wouldn’t get out of bed until I mentally felt like I’d achieved that movement. At some point, I started getting too anxious in the morning, forgetting those mindful moments, unless I couldn’t sleep at night and would try to fall into it by concentrating on my breathing. But, I digress.
Lying there in relaxation tonight, I imagined that energy moving. I relaxed everything. Eventually, I was barely breathing.
One of my favorite physical sensations is waking my body up from that relaxation, one finger and toe wiggle at a time. Sometimes, it’s harder to allow myself to relax enough, but this time was just perfect.
About that time, I also realized as I often do, that I didn’t worry about my usual life stresses or even plans for that hour. I didn’t think about anyone outside that room. It was just that little yoga class, our personal strengths and myself. I never cease to be amazed by the way a workout can take my mind away from everything else. Lying in bed at night or driving on a long stretch of road lets me be alone with my thoughts, but I almost think I do that so much already that it’s overwhelming me.
I need these exercise times to not focus on my life goals or how stressed I am about my job or family issues, but just me and what I can push myself to achieve physically.
And that time helps me gain mental strength — a mental recharge, if you will — like nothing else.
I walked out of yoga tonight to find myself outside the gritty warehouse-type building, virtually in the dark. I looked up and could actually see stars in the clear night sky. Like many people, I have trouble looking away from a starry sky, and I just stood there for a moment, inhaling the crisp, yet warm fall air. Everything about that moment was perfect.
My discontent or concerns with anything couldn’t touch me, and that bruised leg didn’t send me any pain. I wanted to be the freak who lies on the hood of her car just enjoying the moment in the middle of a cluster of commercial buildings. But instead, I got into my car and opened the moon roof all the way, glancing up at those stars when I stopped, not wanting to lose that calm, content feeling.
Finding (natural!) mental freedom
This post might sound mushy, but I wanted to share this experience and not to forget it. I think we all need unexpected beautiful moments and feelings to hold onto and appreciate. I’m just lucky mine come from yoga and the Earth. Finding an escape is sometimes easier said than done, but I encourage you to do it. It doesn’t mean your life is bad and you want to get away, but it does us all good to feel recharged and to reconnect with simple gratitude for life that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle. It might come from somewhere unexpected, like mine did, when I suddenly realized after a workout last year that my mind was clear that whole time.
If nothing else, start by lying still and relaxed for about five minutes, just focusing on your breathing. It’s a start. And when can actually focus on nothing else for that period of time, I think you’ll be amazed at that ability to clear your mind.