“As you inhale, direct your gaze to a fixed spot and hold it there.”
I stared at the bright yellow sign requiring hearing and eye protection as my body sank into Warrior II. I thought about the targets on the wall labeled standing, kneeling, and prone. My mind hummed over the cold linoleum, the thumps of basketball practice in the background, and a vision of the JROTC cadets marching in.
My first yoga class ever, and we held it at the rifle range.
Working in a high school is a lesson in contradiction. When my coworker and I decided to invite a guest presenter for our Health and Wellness program, we thought a yoga and meditation class would be a perfect exposure for the students. The rifle range happened to be the only room that could provide enough clean floor space (no one wants to stare at crushed cafeteria tater tots during Downward Dog). Even worse, the rifle team actually showed up intending to practice due to a scheduling gaffe. We weren’t off to a peaceful start.
My mom taught yoga for a few years when I was a teenager, but I brushed it off and only tried it when she needed a guinea pig to help her practice for classes. When I was rushing off to sprint stairs or lift weights at crew practice, yoga seemed like child’s play. As an AmeriCorps volunteer, I always encourage high school students to keep an open mind and try new things–time to take my own advice. Despite the background noise and the strange wall hangings, Monday’s yoga class was captivating.
In a group of ten students and two AmeriCorps volunteers, we spent 90 minutes in a gentle hatha yoga class. Our instructor eased into the practice of yoga with the goal of helping students feel comfortable trying it again in college or starting a meditation practice on their own. The poses were simple, the movements slow, and yet…
It was a challenge! I can run several miles, shovel snow from our massive driveway, and lift my stuffed suitcase into the overhead bin, but to quiet my mind requires a strength I am only beginning to cultivate. Being present in the moment is always something to strive for–but sometimes it’s the striving that takes me a million miles away. I stood in this class with my feet hip-width apart, realizing that my understanding was just beginning to grow.
The morning after the yoga class, I woke up early expecting to dig out my car. The storm had been delayed and the ground was clear, so I had extra time before heading out for the day. Wanting to give yoga another try, I followed a video from Yoga Journal’s 21-Day Challenge, which Eileen recommended awhile ago. Again, it wasn’t perfect. Downward Dog made me realize that I should vacuum, and trying to touch my toes reminded me that I hadn’t gone running in awhile. But just making the effort to focus inward meant that the day was off to a calm start.
Yesterday the snow storm began. I drove home encapsulated in white, feeling the tires crunch over the unplowed roads. I grew up in Virginia, where a few inches of snow mean that we close down everything and don’t bother driving, so I proceeded with caution. My eyes constantly scanned the cars around me, my mirrors, and the road ahead. All of my senses felt heightened.
Strangely enough, it was driving in the snow that finally got me to focus. My mind yielded to the task at hand, I inhaled and exhaled, and I was there. Present. No matter what I did, I wouldn’t get home any faster. I recognized the joy of accepting exactly where I was. One of the quotes my mom shared during her yoga practice years ago came to mind: “I am happy in this moment. This moment is my life.”
Throughout the week I hope to create more of these mindful moments: stepping away from my work to eat lunch with coworkers, unplugging in the evening, and occasionally adding yoga to my morning routine. I learned that moments of peace often occur in surprising places, like the rifle range or a snow-covered sedan, and I hope to welcome more of them in the future.