Observations From the Mat #3: My Transformation

Йога
When looking back at how I became more in touch with my body and mind, which lead me to lose 20 pounds, as of this post, and begin meditating, there are certain watershed moments and critical people that have contributed. Without a doubt being diagnosed with Degenerative Disk Disease and referred to a yoga-loving physical therapist who happened to go to the same gym and suggesting I to take the Gentle Yoga class is significant. In fact, it was during a Gentle Yoga session where the I met Heather, who was subbing for the regular teacher.

By the time we said “Namaste” I was more physically invigorated than I have ever been before, and, something new: I felt spiritually more alive. I wish I was better with words because “spiritually more alive” sounds either over-the-top or corny. I, obviously, not know how to accurately describe how I felt. All I knew is I wanted more. At the risk of creeping her out, I asked Heather if she taught any yoga classes in town. I was lucky–she taught the Vinyasa yoga class on Tuesday nights right her at this club. She also taught a class in the complex across the street where she lived. I wanted to go to that class as well, but I thought that might really creep her out, so I restrained myself.

I will let Yoga Journal’s Maty Ezraty explain what Vinyasa means: “Vinyasa means a gradual progression or a step-by-step approach that systematically and appropriately takes a student from one point and safely lands them at the next point. It is sometimes described as the ‘breathing system,’ or the union of breath and movement that make up the steps.”  (See the whole article here: http://www.yogajournal.com/article/teach/defining-vinyasa/)

Looking back, Heather’s class didn’t seem that physically challenging. It still isn’t. Vinyasa yoga is supposed to be challenging, but Heather teaches an easier version of the practice, “open to all levels,” she calls it. What makes this particular class so special are the activities that invigorate me.

It was first in a Gentle Yoga class that she subbed–and later in her own class–where I learned just how important breathing was in yoga. Too, this was the first class I ever practiced Pranayama (or Skull Shiner) and Nadi Sodhana (or Alternate Nostril Breathing). These breathing practices made me feel markedly better after practicing them. I often wonder why my other classes ignore these important practices.

This seems like a minor point, but she was the first teacher to explain the benefits of many of the postures as we went through them. I liked it when I first heard it because it provided me with a specific purpose for performing a particular posture. Later, when I told a friend at work who practices two times a day/seven days a week he told me that teachers who do not explain the reason for performing postures are usually “mercenary yoga teachers.” That is, they are usually in it for the money.

Savasana (or corpse pose) was the first posture I ever learned. My physical therapist taught me it. This is the therapist that is responsible to turning me onto yoga. I always looked forward to Savasana every session, probably because it appealed to my lazy ass, but Heather explained it was actually a difficult posture to master because it was more a posture of the brain. Anyone can just lay like a corpse, but Heather emphasized that you should neither doze nor keep your mind busy about things like how much you need to improve on your warrior postures, if you are going to meet that creepy guy who likes to talk to you in the shower, the ride back home, tonight’s dinner, or whatever. She often leads us in a guided mediation during Savasana. Starting with a big toe and working our way up to the crown of our head–focusing our attention on each part of our body as she called them out. It was my introduction to meditation.

Heather’s introduction to meditation lead me to check out other spiritual sources (Buddhism, Yogananda, Kriyananda, Tara Brach) in a small part for the spiritual information, but mostly for information on meditation. Lastly, she gave us a benediction. Now, maybe I’m just too sensitive for my own good, but I felt touched by the teacher’s words:

“May you live like the lotus
At home in the muddy waters
Namaste”

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