detail Seurat painting, Chicago Art Institute
When a student comes to a class, they sit on the mat, arrange their body, prepare to take directions from the teacher and assume in all good faith that this will be a satisfying yoga practice. There is a sense of relief that someone else will be in charge. There is sometimes a little anxiety, could it even be performance anxiety, about what will be asked and how it will go. Usually there is craving too, desire to feel or be or experience something beyond the day-to-day of work, household, relationships etc. Sometimes it is just yearning for healing that brings the body to the mat.
But what brings the mind to the practice? Why separate out the mind, as though it was the evil twin? We do not need to silence the mind, nor perfect the body in order to deeply explore yoga. It seems to me that we learn though yoga to unify that which is the experience of this life in this body/mind with a greater sense of listening to a larger way of being, tapping into something universal about living.
What if attending class was all about exploring who you are in such a way that it enabled you to continue exploring who you are when you are not in class and feel okay about what you find? That means accepting the anxiety or relief, acknowledging the cravings and desires, allowing the sorrow and the joy to percolate and not judging them as "good" or "bad" nor giving up on what might seem "hard" or taking too much for granted in what comes "easy."
So many students now take yoga for exercise, for a "sense of wellbeing," some for healing, and some for community. Ideally the class is a springboard to making yoga your own practice. Bring your self into the communal setting to share breath, to learn about the exploration in a safe way, and what you take away will be an ongoing support for your own practice.
One thing is for sure: the mind can help the body understand and sustain challenges and openings by focusing attention in specific ways and the body can help the mind let go of judgments and be open to possibilities through alignment and the breath. Yoga is an adventure along a path that combines the body's movements, breathing, alignments, challenges, and attitudes, with the mind's posturing, undulations, shifts, information and inspiration. So where is the heart in all of this? That steadfast organ, pumping away, circulating fresh energy and removing obstacles and toxins? Well, that's not what we think of really, is it? We think of that open warmth and spaciousness, that deep longing and giving, the rising joys and sorrows, the tenderness and fierceness, in essence the compassion of acceptance and gratitude that is shared with other living beings. So applying heart energy becomes part of the yoga practice too, the turning of compassion towards oneself may be the revelation of a class, and turning compassion towards others may transform your life.
I've been taking classes lately that focus on many different variables of the yoga spectrum. It has been mighty interesting from my teacher-viewpoint and my own body/mind assembly. The strongest feeling so far for me has been that all of this experience I am gaining through my own body and mind feeds my yoga practice and my teaching practice. Not a picking and choosing of this and that, or judging this better than or less than, but assimilating the on-the-mat-waiting-for-class experience opens my heart wide to my students, and introduces new elements into my personal practice.
Take your classes out of the studio and into your heart and see what happens!