I have been practicing yoga since about 12 years old mainly from the comfort of my own home. It is great for relaxation and releasing tension, especially in the places we hold the most stress – our neck, shoulders, and back. In the past few years, I’ve been trying out different classes to experience the variety and community of yoga (“yoga” actually means “union”). Last night I attended a new yoga class, and I believe I have stumbled upon a rare gem in the Knoxville yoga community. One gentleman at the end of the class asked, “So exactly what kind of yoga it this that we did? What’s its name?” The instructor replied, “It’s Yoga with Shanti!” Shanti went on to explain that the actual term for the full body movement yoga we did was “hatha” yoga, but since she incorporates so many different moves (there are actually 8,400 different yoga poses), she just calls it “Yoga with Shanti.”
That is precisely the way to describe this unique class. The total experience from beginning to end was unlike any other yoga class I had taken. At the start, we sat in a circle with our mats extending outward mimicking colorful sun rays (each mat was a different color). Shanti’s calm and easy voice set the tone for the room. She spoke of how true relaxation starts with releasing tension in the body and then the mind. After that total release, you experience real freedom. The word ‘freedom’ stayed with me throughout the class. I’ve always advocated that people really need their places of release from hectic daily life and even need to come to that place each day. I think that idea goes back to a philosophy class I took while attending UT. I remember having a two week long class discussion on the most productive community. That community was one where the majority of people were able to take care of themselves – which sounds almost selfish in nature but that’s not the case. When the people take time to attend to their specific needs, they are actually able to be a more productive member of their community. I personally find that philosophy very true. Helping and thinking of others is always good for the spirit, but we must take moments for ourselves as well.
Throughout the one and a half hour class, Shanti would quietly draw attention to releasing tension through your exhaling breath and practicing ‘non-judgment’ when bringing your thoughts back to the present after they have wandered off. ‘Non-judgment’ began to resonate with me. How often do we criticize, compare, and compete in our daily lives? Most often we probably don’t mean to. It just happens. Having some moments each day of non-judgment help to release that tension you didn’t even realize you were building up.
After our 15 minutes of relaxation, we brought our blankets back to the end of our mats toward the center creating a closer circle. During our relaxation I could hear what sounded like water boiling for a cup of hot tea. My interest peaked with the sound, and I began peacefully thinking at what lie ahead for the class. As we drew into a small circle, Shanti sat down with a large, chocolate colored tray full of small cups of wonderfully smelling tea. She passed the tray around and said, “We will now enjoy a little time of conversation and tea.” I loved how she said that, almost as if the group of a dozen or so were old friends just enjoying the moment together. Even though I met each individual just an hour and a half earlier, it did seem as though we were old friends with Shanti as our quiet facilitator of ‘pax’ (or peace). After a few sips of some lovely honey and chamomile tea, we all began to pack our things up to leave. At that moment, I felt as though I was leaving a cozy friend’s house after a peaceful evening rather than just leaving a yoga class. My body and mind were both at peace, rejuvenated in fact.
I have a few things in life that always bring me peace. I have a special relationship with the outdoors. I am amazed at how peaceful I feel every time I finish a hike, kayaking trip, bike ride, or run. If I’m up in the mountains winding along a tiny trail and come to a clearing with a beautiful view, it takes my breath away as if I’m seeing it for the first time. I hate that we so often forget to take a few moments for ourselves each day. Our to do lists, buzzing phones, and rushing from place to place keep us from remembering our peaceful places. Don’t get me wrong, I am definitely a girl-on-the-go, but last night I was quietly reminded at how important places of peace really are.
So my question to you today is, what are your places of peace? What brings you moments of relaxation and freedom? If you don’t have a new years resolution yet, this is a certainly an idea.