Friday, July 14, 2006

The Tree Sometimes Sways

When I was younger, I didn't get why there was so much fuss about Yoga. It seemed to offer some spiritual something or other but with little aerobic umph. I was in good shape and the poses I tried were almost effortless for me. My mind wondered. I was bored. I have always enjoyed practically all things athletic but, in my 20s, 30s, and 40s, I was deeply into sweating, using energy, moving fast and furiously, climbing mountains, seeing how far I could go or how fast I could get there or how much physical risk I could manage in the process.

Now, I am a little surprised at how much I enjoy Yoga. For one thing, my Yoga sessions are challenging. I don't usually sweat, except inside my brain, but I am very aware that the whole process is extremely challenging. I am not bored and if my mind wanders, I fall over with a clunk, awkwardly. Clearly, I have not been flexing, stretching, or using many parts of my body. They've just been sitting there, still, rusting, getting creakier by the year. Even some of the most traditional poses like the Warrior II or Half Moon, I find take energy, attention, balance, and, yes, a little grit, at times. There I am, standing on one leg, with the other one pulled up above my knee, my foot pressed against the thigh of the standing leg, with my hands lifted straight up to the ceiling, my eyes glued to one spot on a point across the room so I don't tip over. Just to stay balanced in this position takes will. The Tree Pose. Trees sway and sometimes fall. I'm too busy with my own body to care what anyone else is doing with theirs. There is no competition here, except with myself. And it starts inside my brain as much as in my body.

I've tired several kinds of Yoga--Ashtanga, which has faster, more aerobic movements, and of course, Hatha, which seems to be the foundation of everything. But my favorite lately is Shadow Yoga, which combines traditional Hatha Yoga with martial arts. The combination yields movements that are linear--back and forth, up and down like traditional Yoga--with circular movements, which are good for joints and flexibility, from the martial arts.

The other thing that never ceases to amaze me about Yoga is that if I take a hiatus from classes or fail to practice on my purple mat at home, I can barely touch my toes and creak into the poses when I start again. But it only takes three or four sessions to be able once again to stretch and twist into all kinds of shapes. And, best of all, I feel so great afterwards. Refreshed, calm, focused. Mind and body working together seamlessly.

Yoga is a meditation for the body and the mind follows along, unable to think about anything else except the Pose at hand. I've come to believe that concentration, and Yoga is a great way to train the brain to focus, is the most important skill of all. Everything else follows.

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