One my favorite yoga instructors recently held a workshop that focused on the foundations of the practice of power yoga. If you play golf or baseball, maybe you’ve also invested similar time on form and alignment in order to bring more intention to your stance and more fluidity and power to your swing. Debbie is a great teacher, so it was a great workshopand it came with an unexpected lesson in faith.
If you practice yoga, you already know that “drishti,” or setting your gaze, is an important part of the process. Drishti is a Sanskrit term that loosely translates to an area of focus or a place to look. Try to balance on one foot for more than a few seconds, and you’ll notice that it helps if you look steadily at something ahead of you. Holding a steady gaze helps you to tune out distractions, center yourself and keep your balance. Imagine what happened when Debbie asked us all to pause and close our eyes before we moved through the next series of poses. After a wave of nervous laughter rippled through the class, she cued us through a sequence we’d all completed probably hundreds of times. I noticed during the sequence that I was listening to Debbie even more intently than usual, as if her words would somehow provide additional guidance. (They didn’t.) My classmates and I basically had to have faith that our mats were still beneath us and our bodies would still know how to move into each pose whether we could see ourselves and each other or not. Sounds simple, right? We don’t even have mirrors in the studio, so why should it matter? Oddly, it was anything but simple. Words like “scary,” “unsettling,” “off balance” and “disorienting” came up from the class when Debbie asked us how it had felt to complete the sequence.
Debbie then shared that the point of the exercise was to highlight the importance of training our attention to the present moment in order to hold our center, especially when we feel uncomfortable. The whole class seemed to feel disoriented at first without our traditional way of seeing; I know I did. And yet, what we learned is that our gaze had really just turned inward to a deeper level of trust, insight and attention. As tempting as it was at first to open our eyes to flee the discomfort, it was a much more useful experience when we trusted ourselvesand our muscle memoryand kept our eyes closed. It was powerful to tune out the visual distractions and tune in only to the sound of Debbie’s voice and my own breathing. In that moment, it felt a lot like prayer.
We all have things in life that easily distract our attention or make us feel uncomfortable. For some of us, it is change, or fear of the unknown. For others, it may be walking into a room full of people, feeling unsure of ourselves or unsure about how to reach out and connect with others. Each time these uncomfortable moments arise we have a choice to give in to an old habit (check out, avoid them, stay with who and what we know) or we can step in to something new with faith that we will still be okay. What are the moments that have the power to knock you off your balance? Where does your attention go in those moments? The good news is that God is with us in all of those moments, whether we’re looking for him or not. Lent is a great time to turn your attention to God, look a little deeper within yourself and listen for that little voice that calls you back to center.