This morning a strange thing happened to me. It’s happened to me a few times before, and I thought I would share, because I think it highlights some important principles of yoga (that aren’t all about the physical postures).
Most of my life, I’d describe myself as being too rajasic (this is yoga speak for “too much energy”). Always busy, always moving, and therefore often anxious, on high alert, and stressed. When I started having problems physically in 2014, I would sometimes notice that my mind was still in this state but my body simply couldn’t be. As I continue to have these physical issues, I’ve given up a lot of activities that I used to love, which historically would always help me feel…well, better. This includes many yoga postures. And as the chronic pain started to wear me down, there would be some days when I felt tamasic (this is yoga speak for “too little energy”). I’d be fatigued, lethargic, and just not feeling like I wanted to do anything. “Binge watching Netflix” became something I understood!
We often talk about finding “balance” in life. And so if we’re neither too rajasic or too tamasic, what are we? The yogic term is sattvic. We are alert yet relaxed in body and mind.
This morning I taught three yoga classes in two different locations. In two of the three, I recognized that I was in a sattvic state. I recognized this because when I’m in it, I feel like a different person, like I don’t know who I am, and like something else has taken over (but I’m still aware). For me, the signs of this while teaching are:
- I have the class plan loosely in my mind, but I’m not exactly thinking about it. I cue the movements as I planned and in a way that adjusts to the abilities and energies of the class, but my “thinking”, overly-active and anxious mind isn’t playing a role. It just sort of happens. Now if during this I become consciously aware that I’ve been sort of gone for a time, I’m likely to stammer in my words or even feel like I’ve lost my place! (So, I’ve learned to stay in this flow and trust that it comes out all right.)
- My voice changes. It becomes smoother and (to me) almost hypnotic. I’ve called this my “yoga voice.” This is how I first knew I could be a different person as a yoga teacher than I was as a design manager–I sounded different. Calm, centered, present. But even while I feel present, if I happen to catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror while teaching, it’s almost like I’m watching myself. There have been times when this has bled into my normal day–catching a glimpse of me in the ladies room mirror while at a restaurant for example–and having a (positive) thought about the person I saw, only a second later realizing that OMG, I’m looking at ME. Witness consciousness?
- The class seems to go at a steady, even pace. Not too slow, not too fast. (It can feel these ways to teachers too!) There’s a synergy of all the students in the room. Distractions are minimal. When it’s over, I feel this sense of, dare I say, awe? Like I’ve just seen something beautiful. Like I’ve just taken the best class ever as a student. My body feels a little better, even if there’s still pain present. I feel awake and yet relaxed and peaceful. Sattva.
If you’ve ever been deeply immersed in a project at work, or a creative project at home, you may know what it feels like to be “in flow”. It’s like there’s very little effort, and everything just works. Maybe we just get out of our own way (i.e. the ego part of us steps aside, we trust, and the mind-body is animated by that divine part of us that just knows exactly what to do).
It would be nice if we could be there all the time right? But sooner or later, the balance will change, and either rajas or tamas will dominate, so it’s important that we don’t become attached to that state of balance. A teacher once said to me, “balance isn’t being still; it’s constant adjustment” (think of a tight-rope walker: tiny movements from side to side help maintain the balance and appearance of complete steadiness). However, I think it’s useful to recognize when sattva arrives; to feel it, acknowledge it, thank it for its presence. Which is exactly my intention here.
In gratitude for all my students today (may you experience sattva),