Words of Encouragement from Yoga Practice

At the end of my yoga class Tuesday evening, our instructor Shanti shared something with us that I haven’t stopped thinking about since then. We always spend a few minutes at the end of class to share a cup of wonderfully aromatic tea together, ask any questions we may have about the practice of yoga or any poses we did in class, and to share any thoughts we may have.  We were discussing how yoga works best when it is part of a daily practice. Shanti went on to say that “yoga is about coming back into yourself and releasing tension in the mind and body so that you may peacefully rest within yourself.  So often we look for out of body experiences for whatever it is we need in life, but true wholeness is when you may fully rest within yourself. When you can be present in yourself and peacefully okay with that. All day long we give ourselves away in whatever it is that we do. We need the daily practice to bring us back to our centered, peaceful self.” Of course, I paraphrased a little with her words, but that was along the lines of what she spoke on.  I found those few simple thoughts to be powerfully enlightening.  When things get difficult or stressful in life, it’s easy to start running or just not dealing.  Over even just a few days time, that build up of stress can begin weighing heavily on your mind and your body with tension in your shoulders or back.  Most often we probably don’t even realize it’s been building until something major happens and then we start grasping at anything that will bring comfort.  However, this is a reminder (for me at least) that when things are difficult in life, I still must always come back to self, to the present, looking inward to what lies there.  Of course, that doesn’t mean that I can solve everything on my own and that I don’t need people.  The fibers of our being are made up by the relationships we have in life.  But it is a gentle reminder that I must not neglect my present self and what my body is trying to tell me. It has brought me a lot of peace, and I wish the same peace for all people everywhere today.  Namaste.

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What brings you peace (pax)?

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.

And now for a little magic

I’ve never been one to get easily caught up in things or emotions.  To put it bluntly, I’m actually quite the pessimist. Realistic is what I like to call it.  However, I always consider that “x-factor” – that nameless thing that somehow changes you even just for a moment from a pessimist to something a bit lighter.  Let me explain.  Sometimes it’s hard to put into words what you really think, why you do things a certain way, or why you feel so strongly about something.  If someone were to question you on it, you just stumble around trying to find the right words, but they don’t come.  But every so often, you’ll encounter the x-factor.  It can be something so simple, so magical that it all seems to make sense, even though you can’t explain it and you don’t care that you can’t explain it. 

I’ve had two encounters with the x-factor lately.  One is Christmas.  I absolutely love this time of year.  It’s as if the string of white lights around your door changes your entire approach to life for just a short time.  What is it about lights that is so mesmerizing?  They’re so beautiful, and they make everything look happy and bright.  People even seem nicer and more cheery during the Christmas season.  Every year I think of my fond childhood memories of the holidays filled with Disney characters, staying in your pajamas all day, and loads of excitement.  Things weighing heavy on you seem lighter, natural joy and happiness come a bit easier, and you generally take things less seriously.  It’s nice to have that break period.  I think I would like to keep my Christmas lights up all year.  There must be something magical within them.

The other encounter with the x-factor came with the simple phrase from a friend I heard this week, “Music is the closest thing to magic we have in this life.”  I was taken back by the simplicity of the phrase and yet how it carries something so strong.  Think about how you feel when you’re favorite song is played.  It changes you for the moment.  You know what I’m talking about.  You’re driving down the road, frustrated and busily trying to sort through your thoughts.  Then all of a sudden, a song you love comes on.  Maybe it’s a classic song, an oldie but a goodie.  Perhaps it’s a jazz tune that calms you down.  Or maybe it’s a new pop song that you just can’t help but love even if it’s just for the moment (such as “One Time” by Justin Bieber – I totally dig this YouTube sensation turned teen pop star).  There is some magical factor that creeps in completely changing your thought process, mood, and even cares at the moment.  Things you had been obsessing about seem simple, and you breathe a a little easier.  I think there’s something totally awesome in music for this fact.  Wouldn’t it be cool to carry around a playlist of all your favorite songs and cue them at the right moment for when you needed them most?  Sounds a bit like something out of the movies.  Or maybe that’s why the iPod was really invented.

So my question to you is, what is your x-factor?  What offers a little magic to your life?