Yesterday morning, on the first day of spring, I went to Free Soul Yoga to do 108 Sun Salutations (Surya
Namaskar A). The instructor began class by talking a little bit about what we were about to do.
She told us we'd begin by doing 25 salutations toward the west, which signified what was ending (winter). Then we'd do 25 salutations each to the north and south before ending with 33 to the east, which would symbolize the new beginning (spring). She also spoke a bit about winter and how we often go inside during the cold months, both figuratively and literally. Spring is a time for us to open back up.
The next class had to be in the yoga room just an hour after we began, and the sun salutations took longer than expected. We ended up doing 54 instead of 108, but I learned a lot during those 54 salutations and the few minutes of floor poses that followed.
As we faced west, which symbolized winter, the instructor asked us to think about what we wanted to let go. Then, as we faced east, we each set an intention for spring. As a yoga student, I am often asked to set intentions, and it's interesting to observe what comes up for me in those situations. I find that my first thoughts are usually the most accurate and truthful, but they are often followed (with breathtaking speed) by qualifications, justifications, and belabored analysis. At that point, my job is to sift back through all the BS, find that initial thought, and gauge whether it is indeed the right intention.
I also frequently encounter an indecisiveness that is not part of my everyday personality. For example, yesterday when the teacher asked us to set an intention for what we wanted spring to bring, I debated for what felt like forever before narrowing it down to optimism, abundance, generosity, and strength. Limiting myself more than that would have been impossible given the question and the context. For some unknown reason I had placed huge amounts of expectations onto this one particular Saturday morning.
I learned even more about myself as we moved through our sun salutations. For one thing, I started the practice drowning in complete self-absorption. Am I doing this right? Should my arms go here, or here? Should I jump back to chaturanga? Should I jump forward? Should I even be here? What if this was a very, very bad idea? What will happen if I have to roll up my mat and leave? Could I ever show my face here again?
I calmed down a bit after a few rounds and tried to focus on my breath, but little, annoying thoughts continued to creep up. Am I going too fast? Am I going too slow? Should my breath be louder? Am I exhaling too soon? Maybe I should stop jumping back.
And then there was the counting. The instructor had mentioned before we started that we should help her keep count. I forgot this request until we had completed at least five sun salutations, and then I focused inordinate amounts of energy on trying to determine what the count should be.
After we'd completed 25 (or was it 27?), my mind found new problems to occupy itself. My right wrist aches. I felt a twinge in my left elbow. Perhaps I should be modifying already. Why don't I want to do cobra pose? Since when have my wrists hurt in upward-facing dog? Why must I insist on doing upward-facing dog anyway? Maybe I should modify everything. Maybe I should take a break. I don't really need a break. The break would be premature, and I might regret it. After all, one of my intentions when we faced west was to shove laziness out of my life.
But should I be pacing myself? Should I have started slower? Maybe I should have modified in the beginning and not jumped back or forward until the end, once I knew for certain that I wouldn't have to pick up my mat and flee this yoga studio forever. But wait, is this yoga, or a 10K? What is wrong with me? Why can't I focus on my breath and only my breath for at least, well, one breath?
As usual, my mind was hell-bent on travelling wherever it wanted. Happily, though, I had so much time--so many breaths!--in that yoga room on Saturday that I was able to work past some of the chatter and go a little deeper. About halfway through, I thought about an article in Shambhala Sun magazine that I'd read earlier in the week. In the article, Thich Nhat Hanh shares five mindfulness exercises with his readers. He talks in beautiful detail about learning to be in the moment and learning to focus on the breath.
"Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in," he says, and he reminds his readers that to breathe in is a miracle each and every time. There is joy and happiness in recognizing this miracle, in viewing your breath as a "celebration of life." As I worked further into the 54 sun salutations, I thought more about this and then, with some success, implemented it into my breath and yoga poses.
I paid close attention to my breath and how it filled my lungs and expanded my torso from all sides. When my mind wandered, I tried to bring it back to the moment, concentrating on both my breath and my body awareness. I don't think it's possible to focus on your breath and physical body without travelling to a place of sheer gratitude. In those moments, instead of worrying about what the future might bring, I felt my muscles moving; I felt the strength of my body; and I felt thankful.
There I was, in a yoga studio, on a Saturday morning, lifting my arms up, jumping my legs back, worrying about silly things like whether I'd lost count during my last downdog. I was breathing in deep, forgetting to breathe entirely, exhaling beautifully, inhaling twice in a row to catch up with the others, feeling inadequate, feeling absolutely adequate and special and connected, concentrating on stupid things, and opening my mind to all kinds of possibilities. I was knee-deep already in optimism, abundance, generosity, and strength, and, best of all, I knew it.
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