Outside In, Inside Out: Reflections from the Mat on the Mind-Body Connection

Tonight’s yoga practice was an unexpected yoga practice (the most meaningful kind). It was one where my body expressed a deep and spontaneous need for it…and I actually listened. More than that, it stirred up so many thoughts on the practice, why I practice and how I practice. Practice, practice, practice.

Tonight’s yoga practice reminded me of Cuba, of my body knowing on the deepest level, what it needed, and when, without me even needing to try. I remember that month of a home practice when I was so far away from home that blew my mind every time I stepped on the mat. I remember exhaustion from Havana heat and dirt, the way it smacked me in the face every time I left the air-conditioned residence. I remember using my practice as an internal refuge during a time of so much transition. Now, four weeks away from moving back to New York, in the middle of a Pacific Northwest heat wave, I find myself doing the same.

So often I get bogged down in formulas: the Ashtanga Primary or a class or even the extroverted fluidity of Lotus Flow. I rarely trust my body to want what it wants…except in those moments when I have no choice but to do just that and trust. Usually, those moments are those of exhaustion, of knowing there is nowhere else to turn to for comfort and that is A-OK, because the tools I am given are enough.

In the nonprofit world that I’ve been immersed in this year, we talk a lot about depth rather than breadth. In my practice this evening, I stayed in the most introverted of poses. I abandoned my wheels and fast chataranga-ed ways of releasing anxiety and surrendered myself to forward folds and Pratyahara, this sense of Drawing In. The beauty of the yoga practice is that it is intended to balance out – to complement – the rest of our lives. Usually, I think this means physical rigor. But then there are nights like tonight when the exhaustion – blissful in its own way – catches up. I spent all weekend being so present for other people and then today, I had the Gift of being present for a group of third graders. And then there is the being present with difficult feelings that working through a trauma and a breakup and struggling family members bring up.

Last night, I read the Young Adult novel that I wrote back in November and found myself gasping with surprise at the plot twists I forgot I included. That was how I felt this evening when I discovered that yes, I can indeed breathe that deep and oh, yes, Karnapidasana was what I needed after my shoulder stand. Sometimes, we are left with no choice but to draw in. To start on the inside and move to the outside. Usually, I choose outside, in. But tonight, I let my body choose for me. Without any further adieu – and thank you, readers, for your patience with this long post – this is what my body chose.

pigeon pose ~ eka pada rajo kapotasana

proud pigeon ~ urdhva eka pada rajo kapotasana

stargazer

vinyasa

other side

seated forward fold ~ paschimotanasana

one-legged seated forward fold ~ janu sirsasana

plow pose ~ halasana

shoulder stand ~ salamba sarvangasana

knees to ears ~ karnapidasana

fish pose ~ matseyasana

meditation ~ dhyana

written from my yoga mat, in pigeon pose

P.S. To find all these poses, and more, check out my e-book Yoga U: The College Student’s Tools for Balanced Living.

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