01.05.2011

Allowing

Yoga prepares the ground for contentment in moments of stillness
Helen Patrice shares delicious moments of peace

I love savasana: that bit at the beginning and end of every yoga class when I lie on my back, arms a little way from the body, feet shoulder width apart and flopped out the sides, eyes shut, mouth soft, and spine in alignment. I can do that. I have a sense of achievement then, a moment of success.

Yoga classes are a wonderful analogy for my life. The drama to get onto the mat in the first place. Bed is so comfy, the couch is so swoonful, the garden so lovely when it's not full of mosquitos. Then unrolling the mat and flopping down onto it, fighting the urge to just lie down and have a nap.

I watch the other students arrive in their various states, and sit down. There is desultory conversation. One woman in distress over a fight with her daughter. One nauseatingly enthusiastic and in peak fitness. Another has a sore foot after a long walk and thinks she might have a heel spur.

We chat, and I am pleased to report no dramas in my life, but some amusement that Number One child is in outback Thailand and has taken her hair straightener to a village with no electricity. Laughter from all of us.

We bring our lives to the mat, and then set them aside for an hour. We lie down in savasana, corpse pose, and focus on the breath. The relief is palpable. Slowly, shoulders drop, hips open, the lower back sinks down.

"I could just stay here forever," I think. There is that small moment of contentment. There is nowhere I have to be, nothing I have to do right in this moment, but breathe.

Then the moment is gone because the teacher asks us to stretch. Oh, the nuisance of moving. My arms feel like lead and I don't want to press my lower back into the floor to prevent back arch. That means pulling my belly in. I don't want to. It's a little spare tyre that I have to move. I worry that I'll pull it in and nothing will move. I worry that I've eaten too close to class and that banana will be squished back up my digestive tract. I catch my thoughts, say thank you to them, and raise my arms up and back behind me onto the floor, stretch my legs away from the body, and press the lower back down.

But no sooner am I in the moment than I'm noticing it and congratulating myself on awareness, and the moment is gone.

As we roll over onto our sides and up into a sitting position, there are a few groans, and our teacher ignores it and leads us straight into the warm up stretches for hips, legs, and shoulders. Bits ache, bits creak, I have a shoulder injury that prevents some poses. It's tempting to use the excuse of the injury not to attempt at all. To sit on my mat and watch others do it.

Sometimes I am tempted not to engage in my life. Sit on the sidelines and watch others risk and get the rewards. To be safe, comfortable and static.

No guts, no glory. I modify the poses, with the help of my teacher, and get to work. My body protests. Yeah, yeah, yeah, thanks for sharing, now stretch and do what I want you to do.

We move from the warm up stretches into Downward Dog, the bane of my existence. I am meant to look like a tipi. I look like an art deco table. My heels are not down, my back is not straight, and my boobs slide into my face. Breathe in this posture? HOW?

I look through my legs and see the class athlete doing the pose without a drama. Heels nearly on the floor, tailbone into the air. Envy, envy. No sign of me being present, in the moment. I draw my focus to my knees in the hope I will return to self. I look at the scar on my right knee that shows one of many mozzie bites from Number One Child's 21 st birthday party. Two weeks in Africa and no mozzie bites. A 21 st birthday party at home, and 16 bites.

Stop thinking about that.

The class passes in a frenzy of me telling my mind to shut up. I want to be, simply be in the class, in my body, both in the class, and in my life. To be content with the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past, or speculating on the future. To not force the mind to this, but have it flow naturally to awareness. To not yearn towards this, but accept wherever I am on the path.

I thresh about in my life, wanting, thinking I need when I don't, doing the things I have promised I won't, and not doing the things that are necessary. Generally driving myself crazy.

Occasionally, in savasana, or sitting in the garden, or in the middle of a wonderful book, I find a tiny smile on my face and realise that contentment is here, quietly crouching inside me. Most likely, it's present all the time, but the chatter of my monkey-mind drowns it out.

Only in moments of stillness can I notice it, appreciate it, and allow it to go. For it always fades again.

It's having faith that it will come again, like a stray cat slinking in for food, that is hard. But, prepare the mind, and it will come. Put out the milk, and trust the kitty will appear.

That's what all the contorting on the yoga mat is for.

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