It's hurricane season. Mother Nature has sent a few unsolicited visitors knocking on (and in some cases, knocking ) the doors of the Atlantic seaboard. Irene was a particularly gnarly intruder, as my fellow East Coast-ers can attest. I was fortunate; the storm scattered a few branches in its trail but otherwise came and went anticlimactically. Many of my friends and neighbors were not so lucky, though. Nearly ten days after the hurricane hit land, lots of my colleagues, students, and yogins were still without power and running water. Schools postponed their ceremonious first days, businesses boarded their windows, grocery stores couldn’t stock their packaged food shelves quickly enough.
In some ways, getting left “in the dark” was probably a blessing; being forced to unplug and go off the grid for a little while is one of the healthiest things we can do for our stress levels and our sanity. Eventually, though, it becomes a burden—and not just because of the whole no TV/internet/phone/wired entertainment thing. As one of my yoga teachers pointed out, not being able to cook, clean, and clear the air in our homes affects the energy of the space. The energy of the space, in turn, impacts our energy; if our houses feel stagnant, murky, and overcast, chances are we do as well.
That’s why coming to our mats can be so restorative. Practicing yoga is a way of clearing dead energy—of revitalizing our minds, bodies, and hearts. Of ritualistically cleansing us of our toxins. In other words, yoga is the drum beat.
Let me explain.
In my family, my dad is notorious for (among other things…) his lack of rhythm. (Sorry, Dad.) He’s an athletic, coordinated guy with great taste in music, but when it comes to clapping his hands, tapping on the armrest of the passenger seat, or knocking on the kitchen table, he’s always off the beat. Finally my brother, an incredible guitarist, pianist, singer, and songwriter, tried tackling the issue. “Dad, just find the drum.”
You see, in a band, the drum is the pacemaker, the constant. It drives the rhythm. Find the drum, and you find the beat.
In the rich ensemble of disasters and triumphs and coffee and carpools that is life, yoga is the drum. When we’re lost in music—when we’re tapping to a beat that isn’t there—we return to the percussion. Similarly, when we’re lost in life—when our energy is depleted, our minds cluttered, our nerves standing on edge—we return to the mat. We return to what we know, what’s constant: the rise and fall of our breath, the sequence of our sun salutations, the form of our asanas. Yoga is repetitive without being redundant; there’s an art, a rhythm, a ceremony to its familiarity. We let our practice anchor us, connect us to the land, stabilize us. That’s the beautiful thing about yoga: on the mat, we can be as grounded in the solidity of the earth as we are open to the ethereal, mysterious, cosmic possibility of the sky.
Just as the visceral beating of the drum sets the pace for music, so too does our yoga practice steady the cadence of our lives. It roots us—anchors us as we weather internal and external storms. It cleanses us—aerates our minds, bodies, and souls when they stagnate. It comforts us—invites us to practice again and again.
More than anything, though, it helps us find the beat of the most honeyed instrument we have: our heart.