I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with the lovely Paula Flint on Saturday afternoon. During that time, she told a brief story about a visit to a doctor. While trying to explain her sense that something wasn’t quite right, she told the doctor, “I spend a lot of time in my body.” As you can imagine, that statement was met with a look that suggested it was unnecessary. We are all in our bodies all of the time, aren’t we?
Not really. On the whole, we, as a society, “check out” of our bodies quite frequently. We arrive at work or at home with little or no recollection of our commute. We sit and stare at screens that take us elsewhere, sometimes for hours. Our minds are constantly traveling into the past or into the future. We are rarely in the moment or “in our bodies.”
Yoga class is the perfect opportunity to practice being in our bodies. Often teachers will give us prompts or cues to facilitate that practice. But depending on the class and the teacher, we are sometimes left to our own devices. Sometimes that is purposeful. As a teacher, I am often quiet during savasana or during long holds in poses. The reason for that is twofold: 1. I think we are talked at enough during our daily lives and I recognize that some of my students come to the studio to escape the chatter. 2. I want my students to develop their own tools for remaining mindful or “in their bodies.” I like to introduce mindfulness tools (the breath, body scans, guided meditations) and then let students practice them (or not) during my classes.
If you struggle with tuning into your body and remaining in the present moment, you’re not alone. Frank Jude Boccio, author of Mindfulness Yoga suggests three questions we can ask ourselves during our yoga practice to cultivate awareness:
1. Am I bringing awareness to my breath?
2. Where is sensation arising?
3. Am I starting to create a mental formation by wondering when this pose will end?
I believe it was B.K.S. Iyenar who said, “The pose begins when you want to leave it.” By staying in a pose and investigating our physical, emotional, and mental reactions to it, we are spending time in our bodies. Yoga class then becomes a laboratory for becoming more mindful. On any given day, the traffic noise might be uncomfortably loud, you may feel bored or restless, your neighbor’s breathing might annoy you, your hamstrings might feel tight. Armed with mindfulness techniques such as the three questions above, we learn to observe ourselves and reframe these conditions so that they become less distracting or less irritating.
With more frequent practice, more time spent in our bodies, we can learn to use these techniques in our daily lives, outside of yoga class, so that can know our truth and feel less reactive, less distracted, less irritated or, conversely, and more importantly, more in tune with true selves. Because, as Wayne Dyer says, “You cannot always control what goes on outside. But you can always control what goes on inside.” But it does take practice.
See you in the studio!