Friday, October 14, 2011

Boundless Boundaries

If you are relatively new to yoga, you might think that there are no boundaries in yoga. Case in point, I recently visited a studio out of state where I was 'adjusted' by a burly man who simply picked me up, rearranged my limbs according to his preference for the pose, and returned me to my mat. I literally hung in the air waffling between a state of terror and finding the situation more than amusing. It was a WWJD kind of moment. Like, seriously, what would Jesus have done?

I'm not sure any religious scholars have every contemplated this particular tidbit, but I think that he would have felt rather like me: uncomfortable. This is the best part of meeting new people and traveling to new places. I hear in some parts of Asia you are expected to snuggle with strangers on public transportation, while my parents would most like to greet you from the other room. And stay there. For dinner.

At the studio where I spend most of my time, people lay their mats down until they are nearly touching. Sometimes they bonk heads to tails or legs to walls, or feet to mirrors. The mat isn't like a magic carpet where your arms and legs must stay inside the ride at all times, the mat is a suggestion. A practice boundary.

Touching also happens. I've never actually lifted off of a yoga mat before (except in meditation, of course), but I've inadvertently grazed the wrong part of someone else's body with the wrong part of mine. I've stepped on toes, adjusted too harshly and otherwise invaded the space of others. I hate to admit it, but I've even grabbed the wrong water bottle. When all goes well in a flow based yoga class, we most resemble a school of fish, moving in tandem without making any contact.

Yoga is a singular experience. And it is about the union of self and everything else that isn't self. We don't often think of boundaries in our lives unless someone crosses one. Sure, if you mistakenly step on my mat as you fall out of a posture, no big deal. But if I walk into class and you're on my mat, practicing? We have an issue. I might feel comfortable with you using my toothpaste, but my toothbrush? Not on your life. Asana practice helps us explore those boundaries we've yet to discover in the rest of our lives and gives us an opportunity to assert them again. It is kind of like a return to Kindergarten.

"By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment."II 29, The Yoga Sutras

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