June 23, 2011

Otherwise Engaged: Exploring Commitment on the Mat. ~ Jay Fields

Photo: D. Sharon Pruitt

You know the couple—they’ve been together for a year or five, during which time one or both have been on the fence a good bit about whether or not to stay in the relationship.

They’ve got the usual issues around communication, or maybe it’s co-dependency or sexual incompatibility.

Whatever the issues, the two people don’t really address them. They go on, day in and day out, playing out his and her half of the happy couple role. Until one day they announce they’re engaged and suddenly all the focus goes into the million and a half details of planning the wedding.

And you can guess where that goes from there.

Well, I can tell you that in my experience it ended in divorce a short two years later.

Photo: Caitlin Doe

Eight years later I’m completely clear that getting engaged is not, and in my humble opinion, should not, be synonymous with planning a wedding.

But I have to admit, truly being engaged—dropping the attachment to the end product, whether the perfect wedding day or the perfect yoga pose, and being with what is as fully and consciously as possible—is decidedly challenging.

And, as I recently found myself balking on an engagement with someone, I thought, perhaps it’s time to bring the topics of engagement and commitment to the laboratory of the yoga mat for study.

As a yoga teacher and practitioner, I know that many people use their mat as an escape rather than as an opportunity to engage.

Instead of coming to the mat to be with what is, you go to a yoga class to distract yourself from the issues in your life. The practice becomes less meditation, and more medication, a balm for all the places of discomfort.

I’m not saying that medicating or escaping with yoga is bad, there certainly are far more destructive ways of escaping. But I also know that it’s a disservice to the potential of the practice, and to any desire you have to be as present and alive as you can in your life.

I also know that if you really engage with yourself in the practice, and use it as meditation rather than medication, your life will change. No question about it.

Let me just say that my experiment with really engaging on the mat is a work in progress. I’m still collecting data and comparing it to what it means to engage fully in other parts of my life—namely romantic relationship. I’ll report back when I can make some applicable sense of the findings.

In the meantime, I thought I’d share my method so you can run your own experiment. Being the word geek that I am, I used the thesaurus to support the exploration of the different facets of yogic engagement:

Captivate. I love that this is the first synonym in the thesaurus for engaged, as it fits so well with what I feel is important on the mat, namely, allowing yourself to be completely enchanted with what’s happening. If nothing else, begin here: be delighted with the physical sensations, fascinated by the inner dialogue, engrossed with your emotions. Be captivated by yourself!

Photo: Lululemon Athletica

Recruit/Secure The Services Of. So many people aren’t familiar with the muscles and bones in their body and what their purpose is in yoga poses.

I think part of being engaged with your self in the practice is learning your body—what muscles should you recruit in certain poses, what parts of the body do you call into service to make a specific action happen?

Knowing what muscles are designed to do in different poses helps you to not only to meditate more closely with what’s going on, but also to engage your muscles in way that allows for optimal stretching and strengthening.

Commit/Vow/Promise. If you are truly engaged with yourself in yoga, you have made a commitment to yourself. Perhaps this is new each time you come to your mat, perhaps it’s a vow you made a long time ago that gets renewed and strengthened over and over. What is the promise you make to yourself through yoga?

Participate. To be engaged means you are an active participant in your yoga, not a yoga robot. Don’t just always do what the teacher says! Even the best, most expert teachers don’t have the experience of being in your body. Trust your instincts. Play. Explore. Be willing to take responsibility for your own practice.

Do battle With. If you’re anything like me, going to your mat can sometimes feel like going to battle. I don’t mean that you show up on your mat to pick a fight or to wage war, but that you appreciate that yoga is a confrontation with your self.

And if you’re really tuned in to yourself you become privy to the ways that your mind and your heart and your body can be in battle with one another. This is normal! If this happens, don’t try to sweep it under your mat. Watch the conflicts. Get to know them. Engage with all the parts of you on the mat, not just the wise, peaceful, loving parts.

Interconnect/Join together/Unite. This is what it all comes down to: if you truly engage with yourself, all the parts of yourself, you feel whole in yourself.  When you feel whole in yourself, you have the capacity to relate as a whole person to whomever or whatever is in your life. When you can relate in this way, you can find yoga—feeling interconnected and united in an integrated way—in all your relationships.

This, I’m finding, does not feel like a fairy tale kind of union. And I mean that in the best possible way.


Jay Fields is a certified yoga geek. Having taught yoga for over a dozen years and having earned a master’s degree in Integral Transformative Education, she doesn’t just teach the pose, she teaches the whole person. She offers workshops internationally, and lives in Portland, Oregon where she teaches and writes about the grace and grit of yoga. To find out more and to read her manifesto, Following Your Guidance is Not for Sissies, visit www.revelationaryliving.com.

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