The Ritual of a Yoga Class
I’m always trying to refine and deepen my understanding of what we emotionally and psychologically go through during a yoga practice or class. Often we walk in totally in our anxieties and emotional storylines. We step onto a mat after having sat at a computer all day. We are deeply disembodied and neurotic. But the yoga practice takes us through a process that changes this through physical, psychological, and spiritual means. The more I think about it and learn, I see it as a process of refining our interoception (mindfulness of the body), proprioception (mindfulness of the body in space), and exteroception (mindfulness of the world beyond the body). More simply put, we take our senses, overloaded and attached to the world outside, and ground them within the reality of the body and then slowly turning them back out towards the world around us with this new strength and clarity. I find that this process is almost ritualistic. It is an opportunity to reset and re-engage with the world. In this post, I want to focus on exteroception and using the five bodily senses (metaphysically there is also another sense – not seeing dead people – the awareness that we have senses).
You can build an entire yoga practice on turning the senses outward (see my Creativity Reset), which is especially helpful before engaging in creative pursuits. However, I think the most powerful and practical moment to do this work is at the close of class or practice, after having already turned inward and grounded for 30-90 minutes.
Try the following instructions at the end of savasana while reclined or seated. Focus on each for a minute or two:
- Hear the world around you. What are the big sounds? What are the small sounds? Are there natural rhythms? Are there sudden bursts of noise?
- Feel the movement of air on your skin. Is it hot? Is it cold? Does it change? Does it flow?
- Take in air through your nostrils. Swirl around saliva in your mouth. What can you smell? What can you taste?
- Open your eyes, slowly take in the room and see. Keep a diffuse focus and take in as much as you can.
- Take in all your senses at once. Keep breathing. Keep your connection to the floor.
- Are you ready to experience the world around you? You are part of this all. Let it move through you.