For years I never considered yoga my thing. That wasn’t a sentiment I expressed aloud, as it felt almost sacrilege to admit. After all, yoga holds the esteemed position of being backed by thousands of years of rich spiritual history, it delivers unarguable physical perks, and year after year, has remained continuously very much on-trend.
I always respected every aspect of yoga. I just couldn’t get into it. It didn’t seem to mesh with my personality, and I felt unworthy of sharing valuable mat space with others who considered it a sacred part of their routines. I always wanted to be a yoga person. The problem was that I was prohibited by what (in jest) I describe as E.A.D.D. – exercise attention deficit disorder. Still am, actually. It’s a bizarre phenomenon that doesn’t occur in any other area of my life. I’m totally happy eating the same lunch for a week straight and have no qualms about watching a good movie umpteen times. But give me a workout with too much repetition or monotony and you’ve lost me. Physical training that doesn’t constantly keep my brain engaged leads to unrelated mind clutter. Mind clutter leads to anxiety. Anxiety leads to dread. Dread guarantees there’s not a chance I’m ever doing that workout again.
So it’s no surprise how someone with my (questionable) attitude would struggle with yoga, specifically Savasana. For those unfamiliar, Savasana is the final pose of a yoga practice, which depending on the total length of the session typically could last in the ballpark of 10 minutes. It’s designated for deep relaxation, and for those skilled enough – meditation. It’s the time to be very still, breathe, let go and just….be.
This ritual has many physiological purposes, but in a nutshell it serves as an important transition between the physical and emotional bliss you’ve just experienced and the big scary real world awaiting you outside the doors of the studio. It seals in the freshness, so to speak. It’s kind of like the clear coat of polish that protects your newly painted nails. You can leave the salon without it, but your manicure will chip faster.
A few years ago I was determined to find a way to make yoga more enjoyable so that I would be apt to participate more frequently. Not only do I subscribe to the theory that stepping outside one’s comfort zone is a healthy thing, my body was also craving the flexibility gains I knew yoga would foster.
First thing on my to-do list was to learn more about meditation. Improving this skill would surely help curb the mind clutter that overwhelmed me during Savasana. No more would I be a victim of the cerebral boxing match interrupting what was supposed to be an otherwise peaceful headspace. Gone would be the scuffle for control of my serenity; a power-struggle always won out by a long lists of errands, appointments, anxieties, aches, pains, and other random and reckless thoughts.
I approached my new meditation challenge with enthusiasm. I learned as much as I could and tried to make it a habit. Lo and behold I actually did get better at it.
Slowly but surely I was able to widen the spaces between my thoughts; I disciplined myself to recognize them when they crept in, then quickly let them go, returning to focus. Over the course of two years I was proud of my improvements. I was nowhere near “good” but if progress was the measure of success I was definitely winning.
Now here’s the frustrating part. I still wasn’t enjoying Savasana anymore than I had been before! I didn’t understand why. After all, my technique was better; I should have been content with that.
I began to realize what the problem was. For the past two years of practicing meditation I had been doing so on my own time. I did it when I felt like it, and never on demand, as is required when practicing yoga in a group setting. I had been using meditation as a tool to combat stress or anxiety when I intuitively needed it, and over time that intuition grew stronger, resulting in a greater mind/body connection. Some days I didn’t feel the urge to do it, so I didn’t. I developed a reliable sense of when and where this tool served me best and I followed my intuition.
I’m well aware my conclusion might garner gasps from those schooled in the art. In theory this is backward to respectable meditators. However off-the-rails it seems, this realization was huge for me, and the best thing that could have happened to the future of my relationship with yoga.
How’s that? Because it led me to another major epiphany:
That wonderfully euphoric, peaceful, zen-like feeling we’re aiming for after meditation? I had already been experiencing it on a regular basis for years. I just didn’t call it meditation. I called it cardio. Specifically, choreographed workouts. It’s why I’ve always been attracted to dance based, step based, and martial-arts based workouts. The more complex the choreography the better, but anything that requires following a beat and counting to 8 would do it for me.
You see, when I’m in the midst of an endorphin-filled bout of cardio, I’m totally and completely present. I’m not thinking about anything except the task at hand – connecting the directions of my mind to the movement of my body. There is no room for outside clutter, tension or anxiety, there’s not even a sense of time. For my money there is no greater mind/body connection. And when it’s over, I feel a sense of relaxation, focus and clarity like no other.
Wait a minute…isn’t that what I was trying so hard to accomplish during Savasana all along?
It turns out, forcing myself to try to enjoy yoga the way it was “supposed” to be practiced was like putting a square peg in a round hole. It was fighting my intuition. Sure, I had been getting better at taming my thoughts when it came to that point in the class, but was it serving me if I didn’t intuitively need my mind to be quieted at that exact moment?
Who knows – maybe I’m wrong. Maybe this is a convenient excuse my subconscious has concocted to make me feel better about the situation. Or maybe this is just a necessary rest stop along my path of spiritual growth, and one day I’ll resume seeking yogic perfection.
Either way I’ve decided that for the time being my Savasana will be spent honoring whatever and wherever my mind wants to take me at that moment. I’ll still get into the pose and enjoy the physical tranquility. But I’m giving my mind free range to run a million miles a minute if it so chooses. Because that’s what it needs at the moment.
As my fellow mat mates strive for focus and serenity during those final few minutes of practice, I’ll be deciding what’s for dinner, remembering what time my dentist appointment is tomorrow, and debating whether or not my favorite color is still green. And I’m okay with that.
I’ll clear my head during dance class tomorrow.