After finishing my practice this morning–-thirty minutes in the dark-–I sat making notes in my journal, then put aside my pen and notebook and turned to roll up my mat.
My mat is an extra-long, thickly padded strip of rubber from Manduka that my wife gave me a few years ago when it became clear that I was serious about my practice. I roll it up after each session and store it in a corner of her closet.
This morning, though, as I squatted at the head of the mat and began to roll it up, I noticed how easily I balanced on my toes and sat on my heels, as if it was another pose that I hadn’t expected to find but had somehow discovered after “finishing” my morning practice.
But do we really “finish” our practice once we leave our mats behind, or do we “carry” our practice with us throughout the day?
What was different this morning about rolling up my mat?
Perhaps it was moving through the poses in the darkness, eyes closed most of the time, listening to my breath, focusing on moving through an ache in my side, a sudden twitch in the sole of my right foot, that helped me become more mindful about the poses themselves, and, afterward, about the process of rolling up my mat.
In the dark, ironically, I could see more clearly.
I could see my hands rolling up my mat with care, could feel my calves and quads at ease in the squat, could sense my balance.
I could observe myself carrying my rolled mat back to the closet.
The challenge for me after practice is to carry this attitude of mindfulness off my mat into the rest of my day.
In my journal after finishing my asana practice, I asked myself the question: How can I remain mindful in every moment.
And this question: How can I remind myself to stay focused in the moment and not turn away from someone because I’m distracted by the TV or a newspaper?
And this: How can I stay attuned to the slant of light in the sky, the color of the clouds, the touch of a breeze on my skin?
And: How can I celebrate life with all of my being every moment? Is it even possible?
Today I’ll try to carry this attitude of mindfulness off the mat into my life, to rise to the challenge when I’m facing a difficult moment in a conversation with a friend (think: Revolved Side-Angle Pose), to hold my balance when I feel myself falling out of mindfulness (think: Tree Pose), to rest when I need to rest (think: Child’s Pose).
Our yoga practice, along with keeping a journal, can help us notice not only our bodies as our muscles stretch and twist but our attitude toward how we feel in a given pose, a given moment.
It’s this ongoing process of noticing, I think, that helps us cultivate a greater degree of mindfulness on our mats and in our lives.
Try sitting in the darkness for a few minutes before beginning your asana practice. No journal, no pen, just you and your mat. (Or sit on the floor without a mat or in a chair if that’s more comfortable.) Let your mind observe you sitting. What do you “see”? What do you “feel”?
Once you can see yourself clearly in your mind’s eye, begin your practice. Pay special attention to the sound of your breath, the feel of your lungs inhaling, your chest expanding. As you move into your poses, try to breathe in and out in rhythm to the sequence of the poses.
After you finish your practice, sit quietly in Sukhasana (Easy Pose). Eyes closed. Palms open or closed, resting on your knees. Can you notice your breath, how your fingers clench or unfold easily, how your lower back strains to hold you upright, how your buttocks root you to your mat?
Now take your journal and pen and describe how practicing in the dark influenced your practice. Were you able to cultivate a greater degree of mindfulness on your mat? And do you think you’ll be able to carry that mindfulness into the routines of your day?
A note of thanks to my teacher, Rita Knorr, for suggesting that I try practicing in the dark as a way to “see” the poses differently.