During my time in the MALS program, I was performing quite a balancing act. On any given week I had to juggle a full time and two part-time jobs, along with my twice-weekly commutes to Rochester to attend classes, plus my classwork. In the long term, I had to balance my course load so that I could move to Alaska to meet my then-fiancé (now husband) as he began his studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. One thing that fell to the wayside during that period was my own physical health. By the time I finished up my Capstone and moved to The Last Frontier, I was not feeling particularly amazing. And I was really missing that feeling of inspirational transformation that being a MALS student can give you on an almost daily basis.
Then I found yoga. And I began to transform all over again.
I was learning about balance in a new way, as I tried to get my bearings in a new and unfamiliar place. I also had to really get in touch with my own body and my own mind—not my student mind, where I have always felt comfortable, but my inner mind. My “me” mind. Sure, I felt silly chanting and doing crazy poses all alone in my tiny living room, but soon I began to crave that hour on my yoga mat the way I used to crave pizza, or my mortal enemy—Nutella!
Yoga became a place where my type-A, daily checklist brain could check out. The only thing that mattered was whether or not I was breathing. That’s right—yoga only counts if you are breathing. It’s not the poses (or asana) that matter; a teacher once told me that without the breathing, yoga is just a lot of fancy stretching. The breath is what moves our energy through our bodies, and so if you aren’t breathing you’re just … bending.
MALS transformed me because I let the rest of the world fall away while I was in class, or home working on a project, or reading an assigned passage. When I could successfully “let the MALS take over”, I could absorb the knowledge, and enjoy myself—I could be transformed. In today’s world, where we value multi-tasking over almost everything else, it can feel counterintuitive to focus on one thing at a time. I am here to tell you, focusing on one thing at a time is a lost art—and it’s where transformation happens.
Today, when I walk the dog I try to only walk the dog. I try to enjoy the time outside just like she does, and to enjoy her. When I’m writing, I’m only writing … not checking Facebook, or Twitter, or text messages. Have I perfected my laser focus? Hardly, but it’s a practice—just like yoga is a practice. Just like some days my off-the-mat life seeps into my on-the-mat thoughts, some days I’m thinking about answering emails while I’m walking the dog. But the transformation happens in the trying, not in the perfecting. After all, if you’re perfect—what’s left?
As we move into spring I encourage you all to be more mindful, to focus on the breath, and to let the rhythm of that breath inspire a profound change. Namaste!
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