Published: Mar 10, 2012 07:00 PM
Modified: Mar 09, 2012 03:03 PM
What’s going on in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area that so many of us are craving something we find answered in the ancient Hindu practice of yoga.
On a cold Saturday morning last month I found myself stretched out in corpse pose – in other words, flat on my back in gym shirt, shorts, and barefoot on a thin rubber mat – in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro YMCA.
I had just finished twisting my torso, neck, and head, and stretched every limb of my body in my clumsy effort to follow the esoteric yet physically strenuous flow of yoga. Outside, there was the surreal beauty of a light dusting of snow on bare tree limbs against an aqua blue sky. Inside, the room was dark. There was a young man playing a sitar, live, with a graceful style that hypnotized me.
For a few minutes, I was no longer in Chapel Hill, but in a land faraway, with nary a concern or worry in the world. My body dropped lower onto the ground as I let go of the outside pressures weighing heavily upon my taut shoulders and heavily burdened back. For the next 15 minutes I meditated on relaxing every part of my being while focusing on only those things that matter most in life.
I am but one of many people in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area who discovered something in yoga that was missing in an already complicated, dynamic, yet hurried life. Physically, I work out daily, run marathons, and try to eat a healthy, balanced diet, taking care of my body. Psychologically, I am a work in progress but have my act together more days than not. Spiritually, I’m in the habit of praying morning and evening prayers, and attend Christian worship weekly, if not more often during holy days.
So why yoga? Why now? What’s going on in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro area that so many of us are craving something we find answered in the ancient Hindu practice of yoga.
While having heard of yoga’s health benefits throughout the years, it was my daughter and partner who started practicing yoga in our household. Convinced I was already rather limber for a man in his 50s, I blithely walked into a yoga studio where everyone was quietly spreading out a mat. I stretched out on my back, and almost fell asleep because the room of people was warm.
“Let your body rest,” said Elijah the instructor. How hard could this be? Next, Elijah said, “Sit up and focus on breathing.” Where was the health and psychological benefit in this? But this wasn’t ordinary breathing. This was concentrated, mindful breathing, holding breath for certain beats, letting it out slowly, using my diaphragm by pushing out as I learned to breathe deeply, lungs now filling up to the brim, holding, and slowly letting go, rolling diaphragm in, “and again,” he said.
With this simple beginning, the real work began: stretching of tendons that I never knew I had, increasing awareness of my body’s inability to balance, the reaching for toes, the calculated breathing, standing in wonderfully still awkward poses have now all become anticipated movements. I wonder about the history of names of poses that reach back to ancient practices like “sun salutation” or “warrior pose.” I laugh at animal named positions like “downward dog,” “fish,” and “cobra.” I marvel at the apropos names of nature for simply standing quietly, like “mountain” and “tree” pose. Limbered up, caught off guard by what my body could and could not do, I was enthralled by yoga’s simplicity while yet challenging my way of being in the world.
I am not the only one who finds himself in the habit of doing yoga. There are almost as many places where one can learn and practice yoga in Chapel Hill-Carrboro as there are churches and other places of religious devotion. And there are about as many variations of yoga practiced here, as there are Protestant denominations, from Bikram yoga to Shivananda.
Why are the people of Chapel Hill-Carrboro such yoga enthusiasts? Perhaps it is because we are more spiritually pluralistic today, interested in learning from the faith and life practices of others without fear of compromising our core convictions. Another reason is because we are highly educated on matters of health and wellness in this day and age than previous generations. But the primary reason may simply be this: because we’re stressed-out high achievers, searching for a way to let go of the pressure we’ve put ourselves under.
I close this article as I do with every yoga session with a simple blessing of “Namaste,” honoring the place of love, of light, of truth and peace.
Contact Brett Webb-Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.