Slow it down

I write to you with sore thighs and tender biceps and triceps. Over the past couple of days, I attended a Balletone class, along with my first yoga class in ages. Wow does my body feel the effect of intense movement after weeks of a somewhat sedentary lifestyle. Sore muscles aside, it felt great to roll out my mat and take some serious vinyasas. I even surprised myself by holding crow pose for several more seconds than usual, especially after a yoga hiatus. In the words of Liz Lemon, I’m back nerds!

This morning, I accompanied by mom to her weekly yoga class (should I mention that my heart SWELLS at the fact that my family members now do yoga on their own?) at Perry Hall Yoga Center. Our instructor Melissa started class with a short meditation in which we sat cross-legged on our mats and focused on a feeling, a memory, or thought we wanted to release. Then, Melissa took us through several basic poses that we held for a couple of minutes on each side of our bodies. We also took Dancer by leaning on the wall, which I’ve never done before. Melissa closed the class with a few slow pelvic tilts, then a savasana.

I did not break a sweat in class, something that I used to mistakenly view as a mark of an ineffective yoga practice. However, a slow, quiet class is essential to any yoga practice. For example, Melissa explained how to properly align our bodies in each pose, then gave us time to take each pose slowly and precisely. Unfortunately, many instructors fail to offer this kind of specific guidance to their students, which results in injury.

I observed that Melissa had us acknowledge our thoughts first, at the beginning of class, then move our bodies. As she said, “the mind and body need to support each other.” This strategic decision reinforced (to me, at least) the idea that we spend way too much time in our heads. When we allow our often fearful thoughts full of self-loathing to consume us, we resort to harmful, destructive ways of coping. However, when we slow down a bit and give ourselves a few minutes to focus on what’s actually going on in our bodies, we can lessen those stressful thoughts and emotions and realize what our bodies physiologically need to heal and thrive.

Melissa also heavily relied on props, another component of this class that distinguishes it from my usual vinyasa classes. I remain ambivalent about props, such as blocks, straps, blankets, mats of varied sizes, because I tend to view them as yoga accessories, rather than aids. To me, props seemed like accoutrements that American yoga culture promote that actually distance us from the practice of yoga in the name of consumerism. Not so. For example, I reached my hands to two blocks rather than to the floor in order to avoid feeling the need to strain and touch the floor before my body felt ready. Also, I placed a blanket under my lower back in savasana to ease the pressure I usually feel in that area after yoga. It felt great.

While I wouldn’t recommend a class like this for someone interested in sweating and rigorously working their muscles, I do believe that everyone benefits from slowing down and seriously attending to the connection between the mind and body.

Also, I’m obsessed with this.

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