Connect to your Fundamentals

Last week my daughter and I spent many hours practicing for her driving test. Her biggest concern going into the test was the dreaded parallel parking. In NY, no matter how well you complete the rest of your skills, if one of your tires taps the curb during parallel parking you automatically fail the test. That rule has always felt unfair and a bit arbitrary to me but nonetheless, that is the rule so we spent hours and hours last week practicing parallel parking.

After the first day of practicing I began to understand why parallel parking is so important. The skills one needs to master parallel parking actually are many of the skills one needs to be a good driver– an acute awareness of the vehicles and pedestrians around you, a comfort level with the car and the spacing the car needs in relation to other cars, how to back up and out of a road, turn the car subtly to avoid obstacles and then merge back into the road. Practicing parallel parking (while not fun or glamorous in the least) was helping to establish the foundation for good driving and I am proud (and a little terrified) to say that my daughter did pass her driving test this past Monday.

Throughout the week of parallel parking practice, I began to apply this concept to what we do on our mats and it became my mindful message for my students this past week. When we step onto the mat we usually begin with the basic foundational poses that we take for granted. Just as I appreciated where my daughter was “going” even though we weren’t actually traveling anywhere, I found myself truly grateful for the basic poses that have been the foundation for wherever I “go” on my mat.

As we began class this week on our backs as we often do, I asked my students to find gratitude for Savasana. It is not sexy or exciting but it is where we begin to find grounding in our practice. From there we focused on the breath. Connecting to the breath is like “turning the car on”. We can’t go anywhere without that. From there we moved through bridge pose, cat/cows and abdominal engagement which served to “warm up the engine”. That led us into a a very mindful flow that took us through many of the basic poses we do very often on the mat. We paid extra attention to the back leg in Warrior One asking the heel and big toe to ground down and the inner thigh to roll towards midline. In Warrior Two we paid attention to the strength and length of the arms. As we proceeded to Side Angle pose and began to layer on a bind I reminded everyone to stay in touch with the basics of the pose. Downward Dog (perhaps the pose we spend the most time in on our mats) is one we can often take for granted. Yet, upon reflection, it cannot be overlooked how integral a part of the foundation of our asana practice Downward Dog is.

As we moved through class and traveled to more exciting places on the mat I reminded my students to not lose sight of the building blocks that are the foundation of their practice. Several students shared how much they enjoyed getting to focus a bit into those everyday poses that we sometimes rush through on our quest for the “more interesting” poses.

As we begin to think about this concept off the mat I shared a little bit more of my exploration. Our yoga practice itself can also serve as this foundation that we need to grow from. This practice in both body and mind can be an extraordinarily powerful building block for our lives off the mat. When we have this space and mindfulness to build from it allows us to soar farther and explore more. Just as parallel parking teaches us what we need to know to set out on our journey, our Yoga Practice teaches us the fundamentals of how to find joy along it.

As we slowed down the practice with deep backbending and then a transition into Savasana, I reminded my students once again to connect to how integral Savasana is to our practice. It helps the body restore and relax and it helps the mind prepare to bring the power of this practice off the mat. We sat together in a final moment of seated meditation which is another fundamental part of the practice. I asked the students to thank themselves for the commitment they have made to their practice and themselves and I shared with them how grateful I am to be part of their journey. Namaste