My Yoga Sanctum

My smartphone and my wine glass aren’t invited to my yoga practice.

When I was in India I went kayaking in its most holy river - the Ganges. My kayak guide was from the Brahman or priestly caste – how fitting - and his father basically gave him permission to postpone a serious career to sow his river oats. Brahmans are well-versed in Hindu scriptures and as a result they speak and read Sanskrit, but my guide is definitely a modern Brahman. He kayaks, has a smartphone, and talked about green living practices. On our way up the river he complained about how people were ignorant of the importance of Gaṅgā, a river that is considered to be a living goddess. It irritated him that people would throw beer cans into the goddess.

As we kayaked through amazing rapids and I reveled in the crystal northern waters and the beauty of the Himalayan foothills, he suddenly suggests we stop for a riverside chai. Awesome! We pull over and drag the kayaks on shore, hike up the hill and grab chairs at a roadside chai stand. My guide brings my drink and lights up a cigarette! Ack! I ask him if he’s lost his mind. He sheepishly says he knows it’s bad and looks really ashamed. I point to the cigarette and say, “You know that’s like throwing beer cans in your lungs?”

Why Are You Here?

My fabulous yoga teacher friend Lori would open her yoga classes with the instruction to “make being early a part of your practice”. One of the most difficult parts to having a modern life is realizing that five minutes is five minutes. We rush around so much that we have no idea how long five minutes takes. We. Never. Slow Down. We don’t realize that it takes time to set up a yoga mat and transition from our busy outside lives to being in class.

Everyone has been in a yoga class, business meeting, movie theater, classroom, or any one of a number of venues where it’s not cool to hear a cellphone ring, but one rings anyway. This is another example of not. Slowing. Down. Our minds race so hard that we don’t take the few seconds – and that’s all it takes – to mentally prepare for a new situation that requires quiet. No cellphones. Like a yoga class. Especially a yoga class. After all, what am I doing in a yoga class if I’m not trying to re-center. Re-balance. Re-focus. Re-quiet. My mind – and the minds around me – can’t use the sanctum of a yoga class if cell phones are ringing. Or people are chatting. Or people are unrolling yoga mats. Knocking down water bottles. And saying, “Excuse me” which does no good after the fact. And frankly only makes the disrupter feel better.

Give and Take The Space

I wrote an article about my first yoga class and what a train wreck I was. I also wrote about how grateful I was for the forgiving yoga community. Because even though I acted like a jackass I never felt unwelcome. When I write to those of you who have a hard time re-centering it’s from a place of compassion. I swear. And I used to smoke, too. And I still drink wine, but I don’t drink before I practice. Yoga classes are about cultivating a sanctum in your mind. Think of your mind space like a church. A place that commands reverence. Because it’s really important. 

I emailed my kayaking Brahman recently to ask him if he was still throwing beer cans in his lungs. He said no. Perhaps I helped him pay attention?


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