The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared September as National Yoga Month in 2008, drawing awareness to the incredible health benefits that yoga provides. And this year, as I have actively become more in tune with the local community, I am loving seeing so many events and studios participating in activities this month, like the DFW’s Free Day of Yoga at studios across the Metroplex on Labor Day (be sure to watch for this next year!).
As it’s an inviting month to try new things, especially all things yoga related, this month also seems to be a fortuitous time to begin a series of posts with my yoga studio, The Mat, here in North Dallas. Not only is it National Yoga Month, but I’m also close to reaching my one-year anniversary at the studio and I welcome the opportunity to share how the classes and workshops – and the community! – have deepened my practice and I am certain will only continue to do so.
Before I can get too excited about what’s to come, I started off my month thinking I might miss class for the first week due to an eye irritation (which meant I wore only glasses for the week, no contacts). That might not seem like much, but I hadn’t gone to class in glasses before and didn’t know how well I could practice if I spent most of class concerned they might fall off or how not being able to see well over the frames would affect my practice. But close to the last minute, I decided to go and just see how class went. Fingers crossed of course that my glasses didn’t fall off, but if they did, so what? Right?
If they fell off, I could still listen.
“Part of doing something is listening. We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.”
Swiftly Tilting Planet
What happened that first class without contacts was that I realized how reliant I am on the visual cues from pose to pose, either from my teacher or from students around me. I would hear what pose we were moving into, but if I wanted to check if how I stood was right, I relied on what I saw around me for confirmation: was our hand inside or outside the front foot for this side twist?
I know that might seem like a small thing. But how easy is it from Downward Dog to look up to see exactly what your teacher is doing when she cues the next move? Or maybe I’m anticipating what comes next? I might only be seeking confirmation of the movement in that quick glance up, and make my adjustments, but I started to wonder how much I relied on that quick glance?
For that one week, the glance I took up over the frames of my glasses was a blur. A big blur. So I relied on my other senses. I was listening, really listening. And really studying how those cues felt to me instead of just thinking of where I was going. “Pull your left hip back, right hip forward…” Okay, how did my hips feel in alignment? Not just…does my alignment look like everyone else around me (which maybe can only tell me if I’m facing the right direction and not truly how my hips are aligned).
“There’s a lot of difference between listening and hearing.”
– G.K. Chesterton
There was an added benefit to all this intense focus on listening: calming my monkey mind. I wasn’t waiting for the next cue to move through my flow, with my thoughts drifting to the pose before or coming after, or noting we still had the other side to balance out. I was listening for adjustment guidance and listening to how my body responded to only spoken cues, checking to see if my hips fell out of alignment in Warrior I or if I was relying too much on the connection between the back of my hand and my calf in Triangle. I was in the moment. I was present.
At the end of class, after resting in savasana for several breaths, I didn’t find my mind start to flutter to what was coming later that day (as I have to admit it sometimes does). I didn’t need to bring my mind back to my mat. Instead, I thought about how different class was in my glasses, and how it was not at all what I expected. What I feared might be a distraction was actually a great teacher. And how great the lesson was.