Know thyself: Facing who you are through yoga

 (Thank you, News-Press and Nancy Loughlin, for this great article!)
 
Written by Nancy B. Loughlin
 
One of the most notorious pieces of avant-garde music is John Cage’s 4’33”. It’s four minutes and 33 seconds of silence.

Cage’s piece is masterful because sitting in silence is the ultimate test of mental flexibility, balance and strength. Listen for yourself at iTunes or YouTube.

Yogi Erich Schiffmann wrote that yoga was a way of moving into stillness to experience the truth of who we are. Sometimes that connection is more like a confrontation. Yoga poses can probe into those dark, tight places in the body, those places we don’t necessarily want to visit.

Joyful Yoga teacher Emily Chiodo loves hip openers because they are easy for her. But working her core, the power center for asserting the self?

“I really don’t want to go there,” she said. But she does.

“People have to understand that sometimes we need to go where we don’t want to go even though it’s uncomfortable,” Chiodo said.

When the yogi is ready, the pose will come. It’s our evocative pose, one we avoided. But it’s demanding our attention now. It’s tough, and we might get mad, check out or start time-traveling. This is mental imbalance in the face of confrontation, and it isn’t unique to yoga.

Warrior III. We stand on one foot while tipping over into a giant capital T, and a drift to that workday annoyance can send us toppling to the floor. Likewise, when we are trying to take a run, relax at home or fall asleep, that mental hamster wheel will start remembering, rehearsing, revising and rehashing.

Until we hone the mind’s precision by shaving distractions and shifting the focus inward, we will not connect to the true self. We practice on the mat.

In my experience, there are four poses essential for building mental focus and stamina: Tree Pose, Pigeon Pose, Reclined Cobbler’s Pose, and, of course, seated meditation. Hold each of these poses for 40 breath cycles.

Stand in Tree Pose. While balancing on one foot, focus on a single point on the floor. Hold the drishti, and accept the body’s sway. Switch legs.

The trick in Pigeon is not to fidget. This half-split probes deep into the hips. Be prepared for the mind to wander to unexpected places, particularly the past. Allow the images to pass as if they were on a television screen. Grasp them lightly.

Reclined Cobbler’s Pose exercises patience and strength while being vulnerable. While lying on your back, the soles of the feet touch and legs drop open into a diamond. Hold here, or slowly close the knees a centimeter at a time until you complete 40 breaths.

Finally, sit in a comfortable cross-legged position.

— Nancy B. Loughlin is a writer, yogi, teacher and runner in Fort Myers. She can be reached at nancyloughlin@yahoo.com.

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