Class is in session. But are you?
You’ve had a crazy day at work (as usual). Your boss was critical and demanding (as usual). You have a headache that’s got your temples clamped in a vice-like grip (as usual). You battled traffic to get to the studio (as usual). You had to hunt for a parking space (as usual). And then, you got to the studio – hurray – only to find that the studio is packed, mat-to-mat (as usual). You shut off your cellphone, sign in, kick off your shoes, toss your bag in the closet, roll out your mat in the narrow space you were able to carve out for yourself, get a bolster, a block, a strap. You throw yourself onto the mat. And that’s when it sets in, because it’s the first time you’ve made space for it; it’s the first time today that you were even able to pay attention to it: debilitating, crushing, knocks-the-wind-out-of-you stress.
Who can do yoga feeling like this?
You can. Definitely. But how?
With the breath, that’s how.
At first, the busy-ness of the day stays with you: shoulders remain taut and hunched forward protectively, jaw clenched tightly shut, abdominals drawn into a tense knot, the breath erratic, the mind everywhere but here.
But slowly, the instructor’s voice reaches you. “Come to a comfortable seated position … a posture of comfort and dignity.” You hear her saying, “Feel your sitbones firmly anchored on the mat …” OK, you know how to do that. You do that.
“Breathe in …” she says. “Pause for a moment … hover …” “Breathe out …” The invitation to be present to the breath arrives, and after a few rounds, barely heard, finally, you hear it: the invitation to let things be just as they are. The instruction to “allow your thoughts to rest in the hammock of the breath” reaches you, as if for the first time.
And so you do. You take that first wave breath, following its oceanic movement: in … pause … out … pause. Again. Attention resting, finally, at the point of entry and exit, and not on anything else.
The tug of the day is still there. But it’s quieter now, less insistent. It can wait. It will wait.
Because you are busy now with what you need to do: breathing in, breathing out, watching the breath, attuning to the breath. Nothing else is happening right now. In this present moment, this is all that is happening. And that is enormously captivating, and comforting.
This you can do, and so you do: you breathe in; you breathe out.
And slowly, slowly, thoughts settle, and the mind quiets.
The day slips off your shoulders. Tense muscles unwind. Stress unravels.
And now, now, you are, truly, here.
Centered. Quiet. Ready.
Class is in session. And, finally, so are you.
Charlotte Chandler Stone, CYT, E-RYT500, is the founder & director of the Stone Center for Yoga & Health, Teaneck, NJ, a center for yoga, yoga therapy, and yoga teacher training.