Into the Heart

I attended a yoga class yesterday evening, even though I had practiced that morning.

I arrived with my mind busy from the day, and it felt good to enter the hot room, pin back my hair and lay out my mat.

Everything about entering the room and setting up helped me to step out of the day and into the moment. It was a quick and welcome transition.

And there was a lot of breathing. In yoga, the breath connects you to the practice, and every move is associated with an inhale or an exhale.

I used to be antsy with the breathing. Having to breathe slowly and intentionally does not always come easy. I am high functioning. I am a multi-tasker. Taking it slow and breathing deeply has to be intentional for me as it is not exactly second nature.

We started on the floor with a simple twist. And we breathed. We made our way to the opposite side. And we breathed.

We stood and reached to the heavens on an inhale, pushing our hearts upwards. We leaned forward and folded on an exhale, reaching towards our feet. We inhaled and lifted half-way with hearts forward, and we exhaled and folded forward once more. 

On and on, we moved, and we breathed.

"Your breath connects you to your practice," the instructor said. "It takes you out of your mind and into your heart where you can live through being and feeling, not thinking."

I have always had a busy mind. I remember reviewing the day when I was little, as I lay in bed before sleep. I would make up stories, changing events of the day if I wished they had gone differently. Even now, as an adult, my mind can be reviewing the day when my brain should be shutting off for sleep.

And, in general, I have always struggled with over thinking things that do not sit well with me. Stillness can elude me, in both body and mind. I have even tried to learn to meditate but cannot reach the beginner’s five minutes of quiet.

We brought our hands to our hearts and said three Oms aloud.

We were told to touch our hearts with our thumbs while our hands were in prayer as a reminder to connect to the heart.

Of course, my mind was still busy checking off events of the day. One Om, and I thought about the logistics and details of a meeting I was planning. Another Om, and I thought about the ins and outs of a call I had gotten that day and a situation with a friend. The last Om brought me to my most important thought, what I planned to eat for dinner!

We exhaled into another forward fold and went through our first Vinyasa. Hands on the mat, the feet jump or step back so that the body is in Plank, hovering in a straight line above the mat, arms straight and legs straight, with the weight balancing on palms and toes.

We exhaled into Chaturanga, holding the same position but bending the elbows so that the body lowers, still hovering over the mat but now closer and parallel. We inhaled into an Upward Facing Dog, dropping our hips, straightening our arms and pulling our hearts forward.

Then we exhaled, pushing back into Downward Facing Dog, our bodies taking the shape of an inverted “V” with our bottoms in the air, and our hands and feet still on the mat.

We rested in Downward Facing Dog for three breaths, and my mind began to settle. The practice seemed to be the slowest practice I have ever done and, probably, the most intentional.

Through the breathing, I seemed to be able to concentrate more on the poses, and each time we lifted our hearts, the instructor would emphasize an inhale, telling us to push the heart forward and feel it.

"Life is lived when we are feeling, not when we are doing," the instructor told us.

I inhaled and exhaled and connected to the practice and to what she was saying. There in the yoga studio, I was out of my mind and into my heart.