Mind Over Matter

In “Yoga Beyond Belief,” Ganga White states, “Concentration, mental fortitude, and endurance are developed by holding difficult asanas for long periods. Discipline and strength of character come from creating and maintaining a regular practice and all of these qualities are carried over into other areas of life.” (p.35)

The first thing I consciously thanked my yoga practice for was reminding me more of my strengths than my weaknesses. This was during a time when I needed this special brand of “off the mat” yoga more than I needed it while I was on the mat. I went deep within my physical practice, heightened observations during class, tried to zero in on exactly how yoga was granting me that ability to feel strong despite the challenges of an asana. If I could channel that power during class, surely I could take that outside the yoga room.

Since I began teaching over a year ago, I’ve spent as much time as possible in the yoga room. For a long time it was my only place of peace. It didn’t matter if I was practicing or teaching (although practice is preferable as any yogi would agree!), the heat of the room envelops my soul and clears my mind to focus purely on the moment. Between the two, I have logged hours in studio, often exceeding 20 per week, sometimes taking three classes in a day. I had to figure out a way to take more of that peace with me when I walked out the door. I began to dissect my practice on all levels, determined to crack the code.

Dandayamana Dhanurasana, or Standing Bow Pulling Pose, one that elicits at least some reaction-positive or negative-among all bikram practitioners, is where I targeted the dissection of my physical practice to unlock the cognitive. Over time I realized that the bend had to come from the spine, in all executions but definitely those of whom have tight hamstrings, hips, etc, this is a key element to focus on. This required incredible mental focus to combine breath, flexibility, balance and strength in this one posture. One of the longer held at 60 seconds, the first set was a challenge for me from the start. Once I overcame the physical discomfort (elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness), I realized this posture was under my control if I was courageous enough to recognize it, much like everything else in my life.

It didn’t take long to make the connection between the physical practice and the mental practice, which was the part I needed most to take with me. Some 90 minute practices can be more challenging than others in a room that can top 110 degrees or more with higher than 60% humidity. I realized it was often a simple solution of “mind over matter.” I learned to allow my breath to calm my mind to the point of recognizing every physical adjustment of a pose, to eventually recognizing that it was the calm mind that was in control of what the physical body could achieve.

The ability to admit your mistakes takes strength, just as the ability to stand your ground and what you believe in the face of an adversary. It’s amazing to have people loving and supporting you on the side, but at the end of the day, there is limitless value on your own personal inner strength. I have learned, through yoga, my ability to build up my arsenal of tools to get me out of the most trying times. Even when it is buried deep below fear and doubt, I know I have it. All it takes is a few deep breaths and I’m there.

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