My earliest memories of yoga are of my college roommate Anita practicing poses in her room. We shared a three bedroom house in 1975. Anita was long and lithe, with a sweet smile and great big laugh, perpetually optimistic and pragmatic at the same time. I was a dance major but didn’t venture into yoga until nine years later. By then I lived in Chicago and had a high stress job working for a famous interior designer. This designer was intense, prone toward cruelty, which everyone accepted because he was so famous. This wasn’t my first foray into working for famous people. I spent six years working as a Lighting Designer and Technical Director for a modern dance theater in Chicago. I worked with some of the most famous modern dance troupes of the time. Many of them were fabulous to work with, a few were very tough. But none were as difficult as this interior designer. Of course none of the dancers were as rich, either.
My response to the stress of working this job (well, besides quitting, which my therapist thought I should do), was to begin a yoga practice. I began every day with yoga and attended class weekly. It was soothing, restorative, grounding. I’ve been practicing yoga ever since, some 28 years. Most of my yoga practice is done at home, on my own. I occasionally take a class. I often use a Gaiam created DVD “Yoga for Women.” But most days I practice from a podcast “Yogamazing” – which is fabulous. I love the short, but effective classes, and the variety of classes. When I was sick I practiced with the cleansing session. When I’m stiff and achy I practice the stretching one. Or a morning intensive….I alternate my exercise – one day I do my weight and core work with a cardio session, the next day I do yoga. All with the hope of building strength and keeping limber.
Saturday I decided to use the “Yoga for Women” DVD for my practice. It’s an hour long session with some intense standing posture followed by a series of seated postures. (Those who attended the RevGals only land based retreat, the BE 2.0, which I helped organize in Scottsdale, AZ, know this DVD because I made it available for us to use….).
One phrase the narrator uses during this practice session, which always catches me up, is. “Allow your eyes to gaze reflectively.” She never explains what she means by this. But I think I get it. One needs to have a focal point – some point that one looks at – when practicing yoga so that one can maintain balance and hold postures. But gazing reflectively is different from staring intently at the focus point. Gazing reflectively is gentle, relaxed, with at least as much energy put into breathing, and being attentive to the body as it is to the focal point. The object one is focused on is not the point, just a tool, breathing, holding the posture, being aware of the sensations in ones body, relaxing into the pose – these are all the point.
Gazing reflectively is useful term, it seems to me. One we could use in other aspects of daily life. Particularly in these last days before the election. Personally I can hardly believe the candidates are in a dead heat – that literally half this country would rather have one over the other. This is not at all good. Regardless of who wins there will be half the country disappointed. It’s difficult for me to understand why this so. And I really worry about our future if one candidate wins and the other loses. Half the country feels the complete opposite. I find it very stressful. The idea that everything I have worked on and cared about regarding social justice and women’s health – all the way back to those days in the 1970’s when I voted for the first time – all could be changed by one vote at this point in time. Seriously, I do think it is that dire.
There are other aspects of life that are stressful. Some of the stress is potentially very good, but stressful nonetheless. I am working extra hard to find balance, peace, serenity. Working extra hard to gaze reflectively instead of stare hard or squeeze my eyes shut.
Every day I make it my goal to gaze reflectively. Breathing. Trying to relax into a posture of trust, that all things will work out for good, in God’s time.