I heard someone recently say that dogs live shorter lives because they don’t need as much time to figure things out. I like this cute saying as a way to remind us that as humans we just go about life letting ourself believe that we are the better species and sometimes justify that we are better than other groups of humans too. We tell ourselves we are so evolved and yet we aren’t as aware as we could be. Taken to other levels I find most children are so aware, less filtered and so present, that we could take from dogs, children or other parts of life, listen and learn.
I teach Yoga in an area known as Old Town Alexandria. This is a historical area that George Washington and others during the American Revolutionary time would visit, live and work; large area for boats to ship and doc at. Many old homes that have been turned into retail and restaurants. The sidewalks are made with brick, mostly uneven paths now, and small spaces, so tourists often come, wander and stand around. For a native trying to get somewhere it is challenging of course. I find some nights I’m walking fast, dodging the people and wanting to get to my destination.
But there are many moments I’m reminded as I watch the tourists that they are on vacation and really taking in the moment. We do that on vacations and yet I wonder why we can’t be like this more often. Then I am able to catch my anger, look around, take my time to smell the boxwood bushes and take in the sounds of music that is often played by local artists on the street corners. I pass tour groups and take a moment to listen to the history I live in and the stories being shared.
Same can be said for the entire Washington, DC area that is my home and yet I don’t get to view or experience it as many tourists do. I have to stop myself and allow myself to be a witness to this area and how wonderful it is that I get to live near some amazing parks and monuments. Just like the dog I can take in all the smells, sounds, sights, touch and even tastes in my everyday moments. Once I start doing this I find that my field of awareness expands and I start to see the distance, clouds, moon and storms that are pending long before they are here. I may start to notice just every day things and people more this way.
I use this growing awareness to my driving in DC as well. Anyone that knows this area knows that commuting here is a challenge. Last year we beat out LA as the worst place to drive. Yeah! Ok wait – that isn’t something to celebrate. Nevertheless we have to deal with the high stress in commuting and beat the stoplights or people around you so you can get to the next point even faster. Believing that only once you get to your destination can you really relax. Even if you don’t drive, those on foot, pedestrians, are also busy texting while walking out into streets totally unaware of the on-coming traffic. I always feel reminded to stop and slow down when I see an emergency vehicle behind me and I move over and stop. Yet there are those I witness as they dart ahead to get further and don’t want to pull to the side. Times like these I feel bad for that person. Always trying to get ahead in life and yet is always in a state of anger or stress. Additionally what about compassion towards those in the emergency vehicles? I’m not sure why some play this game of being more important or better than others. Why can’t we just accept differences and that being different is normal and healthy? Social, religion, political and even yoga.
Even if you don’t know yoga well, most know the Downdog pose. Many of the poses in yoga are from nature, but as humans we get caught up in what we see visually and try to force our bodies into it. We may even see a result from all the pushing and practice a specific pose till we take a selfie or video showing the world how we ‘mastered it’. Makes me laugh when I see this. What are we mastering exactly? No matter the outcome of the posture -what makes it yoga is the living breathing here and now observation; you have to see that moment as success. For tomorrow will soon be today and who knows what that will be. Just like the dog – we have to notice when we are chasing our tail round and round.
Sometimes we go about postures so unaware that there is something else happening. We lock our chest, try to push our heals to the floor and our wrists are hurting but we stay right there locked in our elbows and knees. We let our mind wander all around, discussing the pose, judging the body and getting angry at those around us. To the outside it may appear like yoga. Yet it isn’t. Life is always changing and yet we resist it. What else could be there be in the down-dog that the dog knows and understands yet we are so unaware of?
When I watch my dog Sadie do her morning movements she bends, stretches and proceeds to lick my face. Then she sits up and wags her tail. Jumps around telling me that it is another day and she is ready to go outside. Also as she ages her movement changes and she takes more breaks to rest. She will run and then as she starts walking again she gets a kind of smile on her face. Ready to get water and lay in her favorite chair. She eats when she is hungry and stops when she has had enough. She loves to meet others and can sense energy including knowing when behind a closed door there is a stranger there.
Lately I have been teaching Yin Yoga which many here in DC are still learning about. What is Yin? There are fewer postures and instead you stay in them longer – 3 to 6 minutes; a specific restorative style that helps the joint areas physically. In the practice Yin one of the item to be aware of is that although it may be a similar pose in other styles of yoga, in this style you don’t find your edge; You find a gentler place to be. That being said there are those who come, push and have to move quickly. That is fine of course but they often miss the message being offered. They punish themselves by judging, criticizing and when faced with the next posture go into it with the same ‘push it’ attitude. I had one expecting mother in prenatal yoga last night that went into a posture, butterfly, and used the bolster on her lap. She hurt her foot recently, so I was offering a bit more restorative prenatal last night for her. As I talked with her to setup this posture and reflected on the mind, she looked up, laughed and said “see right here I think I can do more; I could go further and harder.” I said “Yes, you could but that is not the point of this moment”. It is from this place of not doing, that so much can be done. Kind of the like the life lesson of childbirth. Yet we often don’t pay attention to it. I find this is one reason I like working with those who are pregnant or dealing with an injury. They are at the place in their life to consider listening more to their mind, body and spirit.
Building awareness can start on places like our yoga mat but can reach out in our daily life as well. You won’t be easily detected as doing yoga by others. You can start by observing far away and bringing it into yourself or the other way around. Can you recognize the here and now? Allow for it and investigate it just as it really is. Pause.
Sometimes though I am discovered by others as I’m practicing yoga in my daily life. I will have a smile on my face and find that my mind is right here with nothing else to do, solve or be. Sometimes strangers will ask ‘what are you so happy about?’ Be prepared for this – happiness, although it is sought out by mankind, makes many uneasy. If they aren’t ready to be happy I just tell them not to get too close – it is contagious.