Abundance in the Mud
This year, I’ll have to wait a little longer for walks through the woods in early spring, because as I write this on April 1st, I’m looking outside and seeing ice and snow. But I’m willing to wait a little longer, as there is something magical about those quiet springtime walks. The still snow-damp earth soft underfoot. The first green shoots nudging out of the ground and toward the light. The way my heart seems to beat in slow, steady rhythm with the slow, steady rhythm of nature herself. And then there is the smell! The sweet smell of spring, mud-rich and fresh. These springtime walks have a way of calming me. I can come to the woods and be assured and supported by nature. I feel grounded with my feet on dark soil and winter-wet leaves. I come out of the grip of some petty thought, leave my to-do list behind when I hear the nuthatch’s song or the drumming of the woodpecker on a hollow tree. And I arrive.
In your yoga classes, you have probably heard the term grounding used. And in fact, many yoga teachers are conscious of leaving space for students to ground and center at the start of practice, whether in silence and stillness or grounding into the physicality of the body. It’s very common to come to your mat with the sound of your boss’s voice still in your head, your proverbial check-list is still unchecked, or you’re thinking about your half-filled fridge at home and the dinner that is not going to make itself. You might place your mat on the floor and wonder why you even came to yoga since there is so much outside that seemingly wants to pull you right back. And then, like magic, you move through your practice, 75 minutes pass by and you could have sworn that you’d only just arrived. With the final om, before you open your eyes, you feel transported. Whatever thoughts were nagging at the start of practice feel far away and much softer now. And this is one of the benefits of yoga – it allows you to come into your body and your breath, to ground down, and from that, you shift your energy and your consciousness.
The second yoga sutra, and what many consider to be the heart of yoga is described by Pantanjali as “stilling the modifications of the mind.” In other words, the mind is often not an innocent observer – instead, it likes to think, to puzzle, to question. This is its great creative capacity, but can also be the source of suffering. We hold onto thought, we distort the world around us with our constant analysis, we are troubled by anxious thoughts of what is to come, or mired in regrets from the past. Whatever we focus on, we bring to life. So, if we’re focused worry or self-doubt, we manifest worry and self-doubt. If we bring our attention to judgment of our practice or fear about what people will think, guess what we bring to life? But there are tools in yoga to help quiet the mind. These tools help us ground, help us find a meditative place to align thought, action, and deed. They help us direct our attention and our energy so as B.K.S Inyengar said your yoga becomes an “integration from the outermost layer to the innermost self.”
Whatever we focus on, we bring to life. So if we focus on our breathing, we enliven our breath. If we focus on our bodies, we begin to embody our practice, moving in a way that is authentic to what is present. And it is from here, that your practice unfolds and you feel a sense of transformation when you step off your mat.
Just as in the springtime, life sprouts from the earth, so too, you can think of your practice (on and off the mat) beginning at your roots. You arrive on your mat and feel into your breath and your body. As you bring your attention to your breath, you cultivate more breath. As you bring awareness to your body, you arrive at present. To stand tall in tadasana, you need to feel your feet on the ground, bringing energy up through your legs, up the spine, and all the way out the crown of your head. To sit-up tall in easy pose, you need to root your sit bones.
And for me, these very physical examples gave me clues into my yoga practice off the mat. In the same way that I can’t stand as tall in mountain pose if my feet aren’t rooted, I can’t do my best work in the classroom if I’m feeling pulled in a million directions at once. In the same way that from a stable base in warrior II, you can feel energy from your center line expand out into the legs and arms, or in side angle you can root your back foot and get length through the side body, so too in our day-to-day experience if we start from a grounded place, we have the support and can build energy to expand further. Without that connection grounding down, the energy we expend out can feel unmoored, a frenetic feeling of go-go-go. Ever been at the mall at Christmas time? – there is energy for sure, but things can feel whipped up and frazzled. Ever gone to a yoga class and pushed hard throughout the whole thing, but never actually felt like you landed in your body? Maybe you felt tossed around by your sun salutations and still felt stirred up as you lay in savasana. But, if we can tap into that earth energy, ground and root, then, as we build energy, it gives uplift and expanse.
So I come back again to those springtime walks in the woods. Just as they bring me calm, allow me to presence myself right there in the midst of sharp-scented pines and bird song, they invigorate me too. As I nestle in and feel myself wholly in the woods on a spring day, I can start to see that from it, bounding forth, is a teeming array – the brook running over stones, pungent sap flowing, the scuttle of chipmunks, and the burps and hiccups of frogs. A sense of earth coming back to life. An abundance in the mud.
Come practice an earthy, embodied, grounding practice for Earth Day!
Sunday, April 23rd from 11-12:30. You can drop-in or use your class series. All proceeds will benefit the Wachusett Greenways. “Connecting the Watchusett community with trails and greenways.”