Yoga and Yoking: Reflections of a Yogi

I use these words as I might a measuring stick. These pixel dots are how I chart the progress that I feel in my heart, but cannot display in a certificate on the wall.

And we need our measuring sticks, I think. We need little methods to measure where we’ve been so as to chart the course for where we wish to go next. Even a voyage to the edge of the map–a place where we do not know we’re headed–needs its markers.

So far as I can tell, a human being needs this context.

We need our own points of reference that we can look upon, especially in times where we feel like we are truly lost, and completely directionless.

Me, writing helps me chart my course. I drop these pages wherever I go as I might breadcrumbs. And I feel the need to drop my breadcrumbs often not because I like to pretend I’m living some epic worthy of the entire world’s attention, but because I spend a lot of time in my mind and it is a risky thing to get lost there.

I swim in thought, I become lost in wonder, I float somewhere in a vast sea of ideas that separates bodies of sturdy land called “Now” and “Next.” I attempt to see how I can traverse from one point to another. Words give some sense of concreteness to the ethereal, airiness of wonder.

Which leads me to my point today: the idea of yoking, or coming together.

I fell into yoga a few years ago. I wanted to discover strength within myself, and yoga seemed to promise that. I’m a Certified Yoga Teacher now and I’ve come to speak of yoga often in my writing this year. I actually don’t like to speak of yoga as often as I do, because yoga is not my end-goal or the journey I wish to walk in my life–it’s just one expression of the journey of my life, today.

Yoga has become a part of my life and many friendships and more, but yoga has more importantly become a practice in self–just one practice out of a potential thousand that has empowered me to place context, understanding and methods of measuring around my course in life.

Yoga means yoking or bringing together, and in the daily or near-daily practice of moving from the mind and into the body through yoga, I’ve found a new way of charting course in my life–without needing to use my words to find my way.

Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP) Yoga, Wickford, RI (June 2014)

Now I want a paddle board. And for summer to last until.... February?

The method of charting that course has been to experience, learn, and grow through a yoking of mind, body and spirit–a “coming together” prompted by being in my body, less so in my mind.

Teaching my first yoga class at Laughing Elephant Yoga, RI (July 2014)

Had 17 students in my first class today!! Thanks @gennamarie444 for taking a few photos :)

If the mind is a place where I might become lost in wonder, ideas, and with them, worries and fears, being “in body” through the physical practice of yoga and breathing presents another vessel for understanding what I’m experiencing, wanting and needing.

Striking bakasana (crow pose) on my car roof, just because (August 2014)

Ba-car-sana. #bakasana #crowpose #onahyundai #whynot

Breath and body movement are, together, another method for the self to chart its course through unknown waters.

A yoga morning with my favorite teacher, Debbie Valois (August 2014)

Yoga morning with @yogadebbie

Of course, if we risk spending too much time in our minds, we can just as much risk spending too much time in our bodies.

For me personally, the risk has always been spending too much time in-mind and that’s where I’ve become lost in depression, anxiety and malaise in my past.

Beach yoga on a Sunday morning with my mentor Coral Brown, Matunuck, RI (August 2014)

Peachy beach morning

But it’s just as much a risk to spend too much time in body if it means you neglect your prudence, good judgment, and self-restraint.

In-body, we risk making choices through feeling alone, because sometimes feelings lie to us. We risk expressing ourselves through physicality alone, which can be emotionally hollow and potentially dangerous.

I want to say that balance is vital, but balance is not the right word.

Practicing handstands at my parents’ house (August 2014)

Watching Good Fellas and suddenly felt like I needed to pay tribute to the #HandstandMafia.

I don’t believe much in balance (in how we commonly use the word).

I might balance in a handstand for a few unsure seconds, but however could I “balance” being in body and in mind and in spirit? It seems like a silly goal, as if I should try to spend a third of my time standing on my feet, and a third standing on my hands, and a third standing on one foot and one hand or some other way.

The right word is not balance but yoking. In coming together, within the self.

Yoking the senses to work in harmony with one another–for the body to complement the mind, for the mind to complement the body. For both to honor the spirit, and for the spirit to manifest itself through body and mind.

Balance is not the right word. Aligning, integrating, yoking, coming together–this is harmony.

My buddy Moses The Yoga Dog sporting some sweet shades (August 2014)

Moses poses. As the Fonz. Ayyyyyyyyyyy!

It’s taken me some time to come to an understanding about why yoga has benefited me in ways beyond the obvious like physical health, flexibility, community, emotional release, and so on.

Yoga has taught me how to yoke or bring together the facets of myself through the experience of being in my body–not just in my mind, as with writing, where words originate from thought.

We can discover a yoking of the senses, or a unity within ourselves, in many forms.

I am coming to believe that the more means we have at our disposal to find unity within ourselves, the better we become at charting our course in life and journeying on, wherever the journey might take us.

Assisted handstand practice at Rachel Brathen Handstands 101 Workshop (August 2014)

Handstands 101 workshop tonight with @yoga_girl. Featuring Liza's hand in ma nether regions

There are many ways by which we can try to chart course for where in life we wish to head next. One way is to look back to see how you’ve arrived here. We use our memories, look at photos, chat with friends, write in journals.

I myself have just spent the last few months finishing my next book, Big Apple, Black Sand and the Midnight Sun, and in the process have been reliving old experiences. These tales remind me of how I have gotten to where I am now. They are those very breadcrumbs that remind me of why I push myself beyond my own boundaries, and how much friendship and adventure can dawn from heading into the unknown.

But as I look back at witness my “old self” in these stories from even a year or two ago, I still see someone who’s mind and body and spirit were not yoking together, but disjointed. And feeling fractured, unwhole, caused him turmoil.

Rachel @yoga_girl Brathen demonstrating crow pose for 150 students (August 2014)

150 yogis + @yoga_girl = arm balances workshop! #laughingelephant #rachelbrathen #yoga

I’m not enlightened now or perfectly “whole” because of the last year of yoga–the practice of yoking–over which I’ve become a yoga teacher, taken hundreds of classes and developed my own personal relationship to this ancient healing art.

But I do feel, looking back at where I’ve been and seeing who I am now, that I must be getting better at being my true and whole self.

The front porch at Laughing Elephant Yoga, East Greenwich, RI (August 2014)

Fine view from the front porch

I don’t believe that the goal is total harmony. That you can “find” it, and once you’ve found it, you’re done. You’ve won.

We’re human, after all.

I’d say that life is itself one long practice of striving toward the yoking.

And, that the most anyone can do on any day, any year, any journey, any decision or any effort, is strive for that harmony. For the body, mind and spirit to come together. For the senses to work in unison.

I use these words like measuring sticks. They help me look back and chart where I’ve been.

Though many words, photos, friendships and more have dawned from my practice of yoga, I realize now more than ever that what yoga has given me is the practice of yoking the senses and striving to live from a place of harmony where mind, body and spirit act as one.

I’ll always use these words to look back at where I’ve been and examine where I’m going. But through the artful practice of yoking, I’m learning that I rely upon them less to feel peace, or find my way.

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