My blog is titled “Memoirs of My Wayfaring,” but during these interludes of little travel, most of my wayfaring is inside of my mind. Perhaps this is the true respite, though. As the wise mystic poet Rumi once said, “Remember, the entrance door to the sanctuary is inside you.”
Lately, I’m been pondering on how imperative it is in my life to feel I have control and choices about what I put in (and choose to do with) my body. Although I’ve felt this way for many years, this feeling has increased significantly since I developed a regular yoga practice.
I recently visited a medical expert who had given me a prescription to assist with a minor medical procedure. Since I had been in agreement with this intervention, I rather blindly started taking the medicine without much regard for what it actually contained. It wasn’t until days later, when I gave myself time to actually pay attention to what I was putting in my body, that I was moved to research the medication’s name and learn more about it. As I searched for information about the medication, I became horrified as I read about the negative side effects of the drug. Furthermore, the “simple name” of the medication was one I am familiar with. If I had known what the medication really contained, I would never have voluntarily ingested it. My first inclination was to feel angry and violated by the fact that the drug wasn’t explained to me in more detail. But….then, I had two distinctive thoughts that entered my mind. For one, I believe I am ultimately responsible for checking labels myself, but also…. what do many of us voluntarily put into our bodies daily that we aren’t even aware of? If packaged appealingly enough, we often don’t pay very close attention to ingredients, especially during times of overwork or travel. Indeed, we may have grown accustomed to seeing ingredients like BHA, BHT, sodium nitrate, and polysorbate, and pay little attention as we consume these strange concoctions disguised in attractive packaging, perhaps boasting natural or vitamin-rich ingredients.
So, as I entered yoga class today, these thoughts were mulling through my mind during my first child’s pose. But, as I entered more deeply into my breath and allowed my external life to fall away, so did these thoughts. Instead, I paid attention to my body in that moment. After practicing yoga for over a decade, I am struck by how stiff my body feels in the beginning of my practice, – almost akin to a rusty crane. I reflected on my youth, when I was a dancer. I remembered how, within minutes after putting on my pointe shoes, I could effortlessly pirouette and lift my leg in an arabesque as if my tendons and ligaments were made of rubber bands. But lately, I’ve needed to start my practice with the heat of the room, several invigorating sun salutations, and slow, intentional transitions into poses to feel the freedom I once did. The magic often happens about midway through my practice. Yes, I call it magic, because it feels as such when the transition occurs. There comes a time during the practice when all of a sudden I’m not thinking about my tight lower back or my crackly ankle. I begin to move freely and fluidly like the dancer of my youth. My leg lifts into Svarga Dvidasana (Bird of Paradise) as if lifting my leg as high as my most exalted arabesque I did as a teenaged ballerina. But, it is over twenty years later now.…
Yoga is a choice I make for my body. Unlike the medication, it is not something I put into my body, but it is a method for wringing it out. As I laid in savasana, I marveled at how I felt as if I had shed over twenty years in just over an hour. Many sects of Tantric and Hatha yoga acknowledge the human body as being a microcosm of divine bliss. In more simplistic terms, the body is viewed as being an individual’s temple. This may sound like a cliché esoteric concept, perhaps, but it is also one that is fundamental, and perhaps even pragmatic. Ultimately, when all other objects fade away, we are left with the shell of our bodies in which our minds and emotions have always dwelled. Perhaps this is why, as I grow older, I am so profoundly affected and aware of what is in my body…the medication, synthetic foods, etc. But, exploring methods for wringing these things out is just as significant. Bodies breathe. We take in, but we also need to release and purge, just as we do with our breath when we take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Yoga gives our bodies an opportunity for transformation…. a transformation back to our youth, without sacrificing the gifts of wisdom and experience that age inherently brings.