"Why would you ever choose to be in that space?" a friend asked me after I had described to him that I practice yoga in a heated studio, reaching temperatures of 105 degrees, with people who are never more than a few inches away from me on both sides of my mat. The physical aspects of yoga can seem extreme, from postures that twist your spine or bend your back, to the acute focus and attention needed to sustain a ninety-minute practice in a hot room. But perceiving yoga as solely a physical exercise is to overlook its larger purpose.
Yoga, for me, has become a moving meditation, a time to practice creating honest intentions while being present in a challenging environment. By setting an intention at the beginning of class, I find myself more engaged in the process of deepening a posture, rather than becoming attached to the end result. Each moment serves as an opportunity to explore the depths of an otherwise ordinary sequence. Most practitioners know the same sequence of postures and flow through them with ease. But creating an intention, to simply be aware of breath and presence, carries me through my practice without fail, and supports the times when I decide to go further. Practicing yoga with a crowd of mostly anonymous people also adds another dimension of depth and community to an intimately personal experience.
Living in a place like New York City, one can easily become overwhelmed by the intense flow of people and attitudes, pushing their way through packed streets and subway cars. I often find myself going from one place to the next, day after day, looking toward the future without fully enjoying the moments in between. Missing the smaller moments is a mark of living largely in a goal-oriented society. But appreciating and recognizing the moments that ultimately lead you to achieve a goal is essential to pursuing your passions in the long run. Every time I practice in my studio with my peers, I am reminded of the underlying commonality that connects us within that shared space. Even though many of us don’t know each other personally and are at different places in our practice, we are all on our mats to experience something that sustains our spirit.
The same can be said about my choice to be here in New York, that beyond the seeming chaos, there is an undying unity that brings people together during the most crucial times. Instead of fleeing from challenges, both the city and yoga have taught me to experience them head on, but knowing when to back down with compassion and look back inward. My practice consists of the choices I make to prepare for inevitable challenges, both on and off the mat, understanding more each time that mistakes are necessary and human. T.S. Eliot once wrote, “We had the experience but missed the meaning. And the approach to the meaning restores the experience in a different form.” We have the power to reframe our perceptions, to see challenging experiences as opportunities to learn and grow from, and to stay in that space because that same experience will begin to shed a whole new light.