This I Believe

Rachel - Bay Shore, New York
Entered on March 12, 2007

Yoga: A Bridge

When I started practicing Ashtanga yoga about three years ago, my initial assumptions were the same as most people who do not practice: “Oh, meditation and lots of stretching. How can this be considered exercise? And I’m not Buddist, so it won’t do me any good spiritually.” However, since I’ve always had muscle problems in my back, I decided I wanted to at least give the stretching part a try.

The first few practices alone in my living room were intense workouts for my very un-flexible body. Because of my schedule and my children, I was forced to practice at night, which left me achy in the morning. After a few weeks, however, I came to relish the children’s bedtime, ticking the seconds off the clock until I’d be alone with only my virtual instructor to guide me. He’d say the most encouraging things, “If you can’t do it, don’t force yourself. This is the time for you to learn what your body’s capable of. There is no perfect pose.” It took a long time until I was able to hold the most common asanas (poses) as long as he wanted me to, but after a few months, I was finally able to come around.

It was at this point that I began to realize that yoga isn’t just about “stretching”.

When you’re in a pose, you must concentrate on the pose itself, being completely conscious of where your toes are, if your shoulders are slouching and how you are breathing, to say the least. Because of my back problems, my foremost concern is always whether I’m enlongating myself enough, stretching my spinal cord a much as possible. In a sense, I began to practice a sort of “meditation of the body”, getting as much as I could out of the physical aspect of it.

Eventually, I did what others might call “hitting the brick wall”. Nowadays, I’m not necessarily obsessed with my practices, but I certainly have come to be dependant on them for a feeling of calmness. The feeling I get from “hanging out” in both Downward Facing Dog and Forward Bend is nothing I can get from closing my eyes and counting to ten. When I feel stress, I can now feel it rushing to my shoulders and spine and there is nothing that can cure it like these simple poses. They are the bridge between my body and my mind.

It is said that mental ailments can affect the body adversely but I never understood the concept until I found Ashtanga yoga. I always thought my body was completely separate from my soul and had come to hate it and the problems it harbored. Only when I hit the wall did I realize that my body is my friend: if I treat it right, it will treat me right. And because of this realization, my senses are heightened, my awareness is brighter and my life is richer.