After running the Boston Marathon, I decided to give my body a break from running and try yoga. I’ve never been able to develop a sustained practice- yoga always seemed boring compared to dancing or even barre. But a few of my friends swear by it, and so I thought to reclaim some balance and flexibility after they went out the window from running so much, I tried a free week at Core Power. The heat combined with the challenge of rapid movement and strength conditioning found me wanting to come back each morning.
In class, time seems to pass quickly, we rarely spend more than a few breaths in one pose. Some classes are more challenging than others- I even felt sore from a few (those lunges and squats!). Of course there are people who have practiced for years and can stand on their head, or balance their body on their arms, or do a full split and sit on the floor, all poses to aspire toward. Even trying them in modification causes my heart to race. After going to class almost every day for a few weeks now, I realized that no matter how difficult these arm balances and flexibility challenges are, there is one pose that will always challenge me no matter how strong I get, and that is Savasana, or “corpse pose.”
Sometimes we start in corpse pose, just to bring our attention to our breath. At the end of every class, we end in this pose to seal in our practice. Many of my classmates joke that this is their favorite pose- you literally lie on the floor, taking up space, palms facing upward, everything relaxed. Not so challenging, right? Except that finding stillness after your body has just experienced intense movement is entirely difficult. While many struggle not to fall asleep, I struggle to stay still, feeling my heart still thumping. An object in motion stays in motion until something messes with it, if I recall from middle school science.
I’ve been keeping a small cactus plant outside in the backyard, one of the few physical remnants of life in Boston. Right now, the bulb is no larger than my thumb, and that progress has taken several months. Cacti are the ultimate savasana practitioners- they grow at a painstakingly slow pace, outlasting generations of human life as they slowly, slowly develop their spikes and fruit over time. They use very limited resources, just a touch of water every few weeks keeps them happy. I love cacti- they represent the desert, resilience, the ability to live even in desolation. To me, they also represent stillness.
My family jokes that we have no ability to relax. Even when I read for long periods of time, my legs shift to different positions and my hands take turns holding the book. Stillness can be terrifying- when we face it, we are forced to be completely in the present without distraction of movement or change. But stillness is important, because as the cactus shows us, it helps us build resilience. The ability to pause, especially after the world moves rapidly and we throttle through it, is a practice in building strength of mind.