One of the ironies of our current state of busy-ness is that, for all the stimulation we are exposed to on a daily basis, it doesn’t seem to give us energy. Instead, the way we navigate our days leaves us exhausted and depleted. We seem to operate at two speeds—full on or asleep.
Yoga is a practice of living in the middle space, where energy and life force is lifted, but not overly stimulated. And where energy and life force are simultaneously calmed, but not lethargic. There is a Sanskrit word for this balanced state: sattvic. In some ways, the goal of yoga could be seen as an intention to inhabit the sattvic state more and more.
As we know, yoga is not just a physical practice. All our systems are involved. Yoga involves meeting often uncomfortable physical sensations and developing the resources internally to meet them, with curiosity and patience. At the same time, our brains are designed to love novelty—the latest Facebook post, the newest video, the tweet that came 10 seconds ago.
For the hour and a half or so that you are in a yoga class, you are in a device free zone, and there are no distractions from what is most immediately happening; the feeling of stretch in your legs, your breath, the transitions from pose to pose and moment to moment, the tribal delight of moving with a group of people, silently. There is novelty in these experiences, it is just a more subtle and nuanced form of novelty, a novelty that asks us to go inward instead of outward.
Master meditators will say that every breath they take is different, like every snowflake is different. There’s a Buddhist saying, “Know whether you fall asleep on the inhale or the exhale.” That is the kind of immersion in subtlety that moving and breathing consciously can bring us toward. We are all engaged in a struggle right now with the magnetic and often irresistible tug of fast moving images and information, what author Jared Lanier, a refugee from working in the social media world, calls “dazzlingly designed forms of cognitive waste.”
Our poor brains and nervous systems are helpless in the face of this onslaught of pretty things, ever new things, more and more things. But when you slow down, the compulsions slow down as well. You feel more spacious, more content, more creative. It is in this wide-open space that you can feel into who you are, a precious gift indeed.