Have you ever gone to a yoga class and spent the whole time in savasana?
Not just lying on your back on your mat, but the bells and whistles, too — the eye pillow (my favorite), the bolster beneath your knees, the heavy blanket? All the while the class inhaling and exhaling and sun saluting all around you as you drift in and out of conscious thought in that delicious liminal space between asleep and awake?
Just writing about it gives rise to a deepening, steadying breath. I notice where my teeth are touching ever so slightly, and open my jaw and mouth wide before closing them again but not quite all the way. I shift to breathing through my nostrils and feel the breath cool against my sinus cavity, then moving down the back of my throat, filling my chest, ribcage, and belly.
All of this is incongruous with the fact that I have not been to a yoga studio in months, just as it has been equally as long since I even rolled out my may here in the living room. But the mere muscle memory of savasana causes my neurons to stand at attention (or maybe rest at attention is more accurate, if oxymoronic).
When I picture these neurons, I see a field of sunflowers — all of those big yellow faces smiling towards the light. It’s as if my entire physical being has been alerted and is responding: “Did she say yoga? Did she say savasana? Aaaaaah, we remember how good that feels, to lengthen and deepen, to root and rise, to fill the body with breath.”
My mind, on the other hand, is skeptical about reconciling this topic with my total and complete inaction. Isn’t it hypocritical to write about yoga — much less in such flowery terms — when one is not even practicing yoga?
What but is yoga practice, really? Does it require a mat? Does it require physical movement? Isn’t breath physical movement? Isn’t yoga the union of physical consciousness and breath?
I do want to return to the physical practice of yoga, to an asana practice that I know will welcome me back, without asking, “Where the hell have you been?” But I also want to imagine something else: The possibility that writing practice may in fact be a form of yoga, too. A unification of breath and being, a place to arrive, an way to explore inner and outer landscapes, and to deliberately slow down and create space between thoughts and between breaths.
Right now, I am sitting on a chair in my living room, hosting and facilitating a small weekly writing group. We began by writing 11 things as a kind of warm-up, as if to send a flare to our brains that it was time to enter into writing territory. After that, I set a timer for a longer interval, and as soon as I hit “start,” my mind went to savasana and the desire to opt out of a more active practice.
I remember how much I’ve appreciated, over the 23 years since my very first yoga class, those teachers who would not only not judge or scowl at such a choice, but who might even come by a time or two during our 90 minutes together with a gentle touch to the top of my head or bottoms of my blanket-clad feet.
And I realize that not only do I wish to cultivate this kind of permission for myself, but also this kind of spaciousness for those who come into my writing spaces. I want you to know that it’s not only ok, but deeply worthy, to listen to your body. To take rest if you need it — even if everyone else seems to be churning out essays and poems and blog posts and rough drafts and raw material. You are not everyone. This is your practice. This is your time. It’s not a competition or a race.
We have so few places to go where judgment doesn’t follow us with its eyes around the room, like a parent or teacher who has only to raise her eyebrow just so, without saying a word, to make her displeasure known.
Truth be told, I almost didn’t write today. I am tired from the weekend and a lot of driving yesterday, a little fuzzy, and low on energy and ideas. I almost rolled out my grey yoga may — the one with a layer of pollen on it from being rolled up just under a window all summer.
The other writers in the room would no doubt have been puzzled, though I doubt they would have objected. But I decided to come here instead, to lay myself down on the blank, unlined page, to let my pen draw me into a slower pace, to allow my mind time to wander, and to give myself over to this practice of showing up exactly as I am, in this moment.
How much of our lives do we spend in overdrive, overriding how we really feel and denying what we most deeply long for and need?
Real rest comes from stripping away the effort of pretense.
Here I am, we can finally say. I am tired. I am cooked. I am love. I am pain. I am grief. I am rage. I am confusion. I am the storm and I am its eye. I am I.
And then, maybe, in the fullest expression of the pose, for an instant of blissful union with something both greater than and deep within us, we experience a place where even the “I” can slip away.