Monday, March 8, 2010

"Keeps perfectly still"

Bikram yoga. It's the same thing everywhere, right? What crazy person would want to take the same class, over and over? And to hear the teacher say the same words every time? We must be out of our minds.

Maybe not.

It was The Dancing J who published a really cool post recently that reminded me of a song I used to listen to all the time. In this blog, I've mentioned that I'm a teacher. I also indicated, I think, that I used to have some anxiety issues.  Before I would teach a class, I used to be wound up like an E on the first string. I'd sit in my office, lesson plans in order. I was technically ready to go, but for those fifteen minutes or so before class started I would get nervous and couldn't concentrate on anything. I'd sorta hop around, thinking about this possibility and that, and as a result it would take a few minutes at the beginning of class to really settle in and connect with the students.

The best way to be really prepared for anything, of course, is to find a way to get into the moment. What did the trick for me was hearing Tori Amos's "Horses." (If you hate Tori Amos, just roll with me a minute anyway. I promise it'll all come together. ;-)

Before every class, I'd sit down at the computer, go to the file I'd bookmarked, and just listen. That song came out in 1997, so I already knew it inside and out--where the breaths were taken, which syllables were drawn out, and which notes were emphasized on the keyboard. To be perfectly honest, the song is not the most sonically interesting of stuff that's out there. It's repetitive. It's meditative. The melody doesn't develop into a typical verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus the way most songs do. But there was something in that song that spoke to me, so I'd listen to it anyway. I'd listen closely to the notes I'd memorized, letting myself get hypnotized, every single day, before each class. The anxiety about class starting would quietly drop away and by the end of Tori's final repetition of "keeps perfectly still," I would be absolutely in the moment. I'd be truly ready for class. 

Isn't that what yoga does? Doesn't it get you ready for life? You go to a Bikram class, and what some might think of as a curse ("it's the same thing every day!") is really a blessing. To do the yoga you have to meditate on what's happening. 

After a few months, regular practitioners know the sequence. We "know the words." But we can't know what's actually coming in our practice, right? Despite the repetition of the dialogue and postures, there's a spontaneity in what actually happens in the yoga room. We never know what the body will tell us, what we'll be capable of, when a line of dialogue will speak to us in a new way--or when we might unexpectedly fall flat into a puddle of our own sweat.

Perhaps because it's "the same thing over and over," you have to keep your mind perfectly still. And being present in the practice leads to being more present in life. Can't get much more prepared than that!

Check out a pretty good version of "Horses" here. If you don't hate Tori, that is :-)


catherine said...

Two more thoughts on this, now that Blogger seems to be working again:
1) It really sounded like she was saying "samosas," the deep-fried, puffy, vegetable-filled Indian pastries. Or maybe I was hungry...
2) I could understand sore finger muscles — if I could play how she does.

hannahjustbreathe said...

"Little Earthquakes" will forever be in my top five favorite albums. I admit, I haven't listened to Tori all that consistently since then, but I have a special soft spot for her music. It always reminds me of my sisters, who introduced me to her in the first place.

Thanks for that quick walk down memory lane. :)

Lady J said...

I thought she was singing Samosas too!

E, I never thought of the point that maybe because it's repetitive, it's the same movements, that it helps keeps our minds still in our outside lives. I know that since starting yoga, life is... simpler, calmer, more bearable? None of these are really the right the words but I think you understand what I mean.

Yolk E said...

"I got me Samosas!" I love lyric misinterpretations. No prob, Hannah. Love me some Little Earthquakes, but I think Pele is #1 for me.

And I totally get what you're saying, Lady J! I've had the same experience. Thank goodness for the calmness :-)

thedancingj said...

SAMOSAS for the win!

I love this. The song is a little bit stuck in my head now. (And I DID know the Neil-Tori connection, though it had slipped from my mind.)

It's all about living in the "present moment." Very tricky, very interesting, and very rewarding, I think...

lz said...

Stillness. It's definitely a concept to ponder over. So true that we have to keep our minds especially still because the Bikram series is always the same - but that allows us to develop awareness, and indeed, when we are present in our practice, we are able to extend that beyond the mat to being more present in life.