When you are immersed in doing with being centered, it feels like being away from home. And when you reconnect with being, even for a few moments, you know it immediately. You feel like you are at home no matter when you are and what problems you face. – Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full-Catastrophe Living
The meditation mantra of the month is the word “asana”. Asana is what the physical postures of yoga are called. Yoga is more of an umbrella term of being connected in mind-body-spirit, which is just a fancy way of saying “thinking about & being completely present in what you are doing while you are doing it and not having an imaginary conversation with Oprah while you are actually unloading the dishwasher”. For instance.
So, back to asana.
Asana is Sanskrit for “seat”. Asana was created to prepare yourself for prayer & meditation, so it is a “seat for prayer and meditation”. Did you know that? I surely didn’t when I started doing yoga. All I knew was that when I arrived at a yoga class I was desperate for the brain-dump that was to come. My mind was amuck with random & unhelpful conversations at once, making for a fluttery queasiness in my gut. I learned in yoga class that my body was a much better facilitator than my mind could ever be at directing me towards calming down and easing up. Once my body stretched, squeezed, twisted, and strengthened, it would quiet my crazy-making mind down a little, and I could actually sit still and shut up for extended periods of time. This was a completely unexpected relief to discover.
I don’t think I even knew how little-to-no time I had ever spent in my life just sitting still and shutting up. I don’t think I knew how it would feel to not fix and fiddle with myself, not reply to stupid conversations in my head, or to not figure out a solution to a problem; to not multi-task.
Before I started practicing yoga, prayer required lots of words. As a pastor (at the time) I was, more often than not, the one doing all the talking. But, even if it wasn’t me leading the prayer, it was still So Much Talking. Well-crafted (or not so well-crafted) words with emotions, passion, long lists of names, requests, laments, thank yous and complaints, challenging words, promises, and ohmygoodG0D. So. Many. Words.
I could not have imagined how healing, sacred, and strangely rejuvenating, sitting still and shutting up could be. When I learned in my teacher training that asana was created to prepare yourself for prayer & meditation it turned on all the lights for me. THAT IS JUST WHAT I HAD BEEN FEELING?!?! I wasn’t making it up or exaggerating? My real-live-yoga-teacher just said that the physical practice of yoga is a seat for prayer and meditation!? Seriously? It all made so much more sense. I understood why people were filling up yoga studios & willing to pay big money for it, while the pews of churches got dusty from years of no one sitting in them. People were coming to yoga because they needed to stretch & reach and get comfortable inside their body in order to be able to show up & shut up… all that made possible an authentic experience of prayer & meditation like they had never known. Me neither.
“What deadens us most to God’s presence within us, I think, is the inner dialogue that we are continuously engaged in with ourselves, the endless chatter of human thought.” Frederick Buechner
I had no idea the relief, the love, the rest, the enough that I would feel in sitting still and shutting up, after asana.
I describe what happens in asana (or a yoga class as we usually call it) as going through the body, to quiet the mind, and rest in/the spirit. So, the physical practice isn’t necessarily the prayer and meditation part, but once you have done it a few times you get to be like Pavlov’s Dogs who salivated as soon as they heard the bell ring – you show up, sit still, and happily shut up as soon as take your first big inhale through your nose & exhale out your mouth.
When we are mindful of our breathing, it helps us to calm the body and the mind. Then we are able to be aware of our thoughts and feelings with a greater degree of calmness and with a more discerning eye. We are able to see things more clearly and with a larger perspective, all because we are a little more awake, a little more aware. And with this awareness comes a feeling of having more room to move, of having more options, of being free to choose effective and appropriate responses in stressful situations rather than losing our equilibrium and sense of self as a result of feeling overwhelmed, thrown off balance by our own knee-jerk reactions. – Jon Kabat-Zinn
So now you know what happens in those yoga classes people talk about. We stretch, bend, twist, and maybe even stand on one leg with the sincere hope & expectation of being able to sit still & shut up. Or I might call it prayer. Even meditation. But, those are just fancy ways of saying show up, sit still, and shut up.
If you work or live on the campus of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I will be offering a new ongoing class on Thursdays, 12 – 12:45p.m., at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Campus Center (Wright & Chalmers, across from the University YMCA), starting September 6th. There is no parking available at St. Andrew’s so this is most appropriate for those who can walk or ride a bike (they do have a large fish shaped bike rack!) The cost is $5, like all other ongoing classes.
The next Daily Bread Yoga Saturday Morning Retreat is September 8th, 9a.m.- noon, at Philo Presbyterian Church. The theme of the retreat is “Beginner’s Mind”. That means it is appropriate for everyone from beginner’s to advanced, so long as you are willing to be present and learn! The cost of the retreat is $30, or you can purchase 4 retreats (good for a year) for $100. And if both of those options are just not good for you right now, please still come & pay what you can. Believe me that I honestly want you to be there.
I hope that you have a chance to sit still and shut up soon. Maybe right now? Take a few big inhales & exhales, stretch your face a little, maybe shake your arms out a little. Then sit still and shut up.
Peace on your head, you.