Often in my classes, I ask my students to close their eyes.
The first time I did it was almost out of frustration. I could see the room being almost hyper-aware of their surroundings; looking all over the room, fidgeting their feet, ignoring their breath. They weren't feeling, they were thinking. And while I'm all for being thoughtful and exploring your mind, I could tell what was going on wasn't peaceful introspection. No, they were up in their heads, running through their to-do lists, rehashing an argument they'd had earlier, deciding what to make more dinner, stressing about work tomorrow...
Physically, they were here, on their mats, "at yoga". But they hadn't yet arrived in the room, hadn't yet arrived in their bodies. As a teacher, I know my biggest goal for any class is to get my students breathing consciously and with intention, and I knew that as long as they were stuck in the past or future, they weren't going to accomplish that. And so, I turned to sensory-deprivation.
"Close your eyes," I said, "And feel this pose."
Feel this pose.
So often I find myself in class, holding what feels like the-longest-chairpose-ever, or struggling to stay in Warrior Three, and I definitely think I'm feeling the pose. I feel my legs burning, my ankle begging me to release some weight from it, my muscles clenching onto my bone. But I'm still not really in my body. Where I am is up in my head, thinking, "This pose feels (good/bad), and I need to (sit deeper/stand straighter/get lighter) or else I'll look (inflexible/weak/inexperienced)."
To really feel, though, you need to remove those connotations from your sensation. When I ask my students to close their eyes and really feel a pose, I'm asking them not to notice if it feels good or bad, I'm asking them to notice what it really feels like. Where do you feel it? Do you feel a stretch along the side of your body? Do you feel your knee pulling out toward your pinky toe? Do you feel your fingertips lengthening up towards the sky and your hips pulling down towards the earth? And where does your breath factor into all of this? Can you feel the whole length of your inhales pulling you up, and the extent of your exhales melting you deeper?
This world of sensation goes far beyond "good or bad". It's a way of fulling exploring your body and breath, a new way of experiencing life. I ask my students to close their eyes and breathe because this is an experience that, for many, is relegated to their mat. So many of us, me included, hurry through our days hardly stopping to notice what's going on in our bodies. We're focused on checking off the next thing on our to-do list, getting to our next appointment, getting from home to work to home again as fast as we can. How often do we stop to feel our feet in the earth and the breath in our lungs? How often do we stop to touch the rain instead of avoid the dampness? How often do we relish the heat of the coffee in our mugs instead of doing the next best thing to intravenously injected caffeine into our bodies first thing in the morning?
We live in a fast-paced world, one that doesn't relish sensation the way it used to. Long gone are the days of four hour meals spent exploring the texture and color and taste of foods, paired with good company and conversation. Long gone are days of lazy Sunday drives spent absorbing the countryside and people watching from our perches (increasing gas prices aside). Long gone are evenings feeling the texture of real paper between our fingertips as we turn the pages in a book not downloadable by the free WiFi in Barnes and Noble, apparently the only feature keeping their liquidation period artificially alive.
We've begun to settle for a diluted life experience, one that gives us a false sense of sensation through way of vibrant lights and colors on a screen that can take us a million miles away from the people in front of our faces in a matter of seconds. I've seen children glued to their tablets across the tables from their waning grandmothers,who long for nothing more than their attention but can't compete with a concentrated stream of entertainment. I've seen adults locked to their phones, tossing another screen to their kids to quiet them while they type. I've seen concerts illuminated by a glow of cell phones, a sea of people watching a live show through a lower resolution screen than their TV at home.
We think that we feel so much, but it's a dilution of the real thing, of the lives we used to live before things started to move so fast. And no one is really removed from it.
The average adult today has a smaller attention span than a goldfish.
As every aspect of our lives has become expedited, we can hardly sit still. Vinyasa Flow classes are packed with people looking for a quick shot of movement, whereas Yin and meditation classes can struggle to be filled. Fast food joints, even fast-casual joints that are praised for their increased quality standards, pump food into us with as little fuss as possible, concentrating a "dining experience" into a stop on the way to our next meeting. Books struggle to hold our full attention, being replaced by audiobooks that can be coupled with our commute and become just another facet of background noise.
And nothing's wrong with liking any of these things, but where is the balance? Where is the time spent savoring as apposed to accomplishing?
I cook my meals from scratch. For a few reasons. I like knowing where my food is coming from, that the animals were treated well and the plants were sustainably harvested. I like knowing that I'm putting good things into my body. But I also like knowing that I'm forming a connection with my food. That I'm taking the time to appreciate it, enjoy it, explore it. For a long time, food was a place of disconnection for me, something I wanted to tune out and not have to really feel. But now I make a conscious effort to be present, to taste my food and not just assimilate it.
And why is this now so foreign to our culture? We like food trucks and deliveries and drive-throughs. Food quality aside, what does this say about us as a people? About our attraction to the quick and pleasurable and admonishment of anything slow? We want fast internet connection, fast cars, fast connections. We want our patience to never be tested and our phones to never die.
But we're different from our electronic obsessions, we can't be recharged when our screens go black. At least, not by simply plugging ourselves in. We take so much more time to heal from a life that pushes and pushes and pushes and never gives.
I'm asking my students to slow down when I ask them to close their eyes. I'm asking them to give themselves time to catch up to the train that they're on 24/7, rushing towards some unforeseeable destination.Why are we so afraid of slowing down?
What is it that we're afraid of feeling?