Out of all of the ways my seat has shaped and continues to shape me, I have sensed its ripples most through gratitude, mindfulness, and lightness.Read More
The following piece was written by Kathy Hartsell, a fellow yoga instructor and mind-body practitioner who studies alongside the Mind Body Dancer® community. She writes from Boston, MA.
I recently sat in the audience of a ballet performance to watch Yury Yanowsky mark the end of his epic twenty-two year career. Yury danced with his wife for that last show, their relaxed approach to movement sharpened by the poise that comes from experience and by the lines that come from discipline. Together, they painted steps and stories onto the spotlight's white canvas. Even from the very last row where I chose to watch, their mutual gratitude and respect seeped from the stage, sedating the theater like a relaxant. The usual low buzz of an audience was quieted, nervous systems' down-regulated by the resonant beauty of this exchange.
From Helen Reiss's TED talk on Empathetics, the neuroscience of empathy, I learned about the South African greeting "sawa bona." The phrase translates into "I see you," and the customary response, "sikhona" translates to "I am here." This refined greeting came to mind as I watched Yury and his wife dance for one another - unrushed with communication...direct with connection...unwavering with support. Though Yury was dancing his farewell performance, he was in every way saying "hello" to the moment and to the people co-creating it.
At the end of the show, Yury bowed his head and lightly pressed one hand to his chest, reminding me there is not only an art to movement. There is also an art to presence. An art to gratitude. An art to letting go. As he took his final bows, the audience stayed with him, suspending time around him like a warm embrace. We see you. We are grateful. After humbly resisting this attention, Yury filled the space being held for him. I am here. Thank you for seeing me and my work. I see you too.
In ordinary days, perhaps in response to so much stimulation, we tend to block out many faces (familiar and new) that animate our outer treks. We often choose the shortest greeting possible, if we notice each other at all. We barely have room for politeness, many shades inferior to kindness. Even the internal sensations, the layers that give our yoga practice depth and meaning, can get little more than a curt nod from our awareness. We have become quite skilled in filtering out all that matters in exchange for keeping up. But that day at the ballet, as the beauty of connection spiraled inward and rippled outward, I felt humanity circling back home, even if just for an instant. I left the theater savoring the flavor of undistracted presence and enunciated gratitude. I also left remembering how powerful the intentions behind our movements really are.
Particularly as winter clears and reveals space for spring, sawa bona and sikhona has become a theme for my yoga practice. As I drop into meditation, I practice warmly greeting the thoughts and sensations that punctuate the moment, without rushing. As I flow through sentences of poses, I slow down to explore the layers of inner experience--the ones so easy to ignore or repress. With a compassionate hello to all that I find, I discover that no matter how flawed my efforts are, it connects me to deep gratitude. I see you. I am here. As I take sawa bona and sikhona into my exchanges with other people, something that resembles the day in the theater emerges. Like it is on my mat, my practice is flawed in the world. But even so, the nectar of connection, the very essence of yoga, arrives.
Violence is a complicated result of conflicts in human nature; it exists in every culture and circumstance. For some regions of the world, it is a daily occurrence. Intellectually, we know beings around the world are suffering but naturally we notice it more when the violence hits close to home. There have been several reasons for our hearts to be touched with tragedies recently in Newtown, Boston, and West Texas. Any time spent reading the world news points out countless stories and situations where our intentions can be sent for love, peace, and healing. It can feel like we are helpless with distance or that we have limited resources to affect change.
The power of intention is a tool we all can use, and our mats can be the space where we begin this practice of focusing the mind, heart, and breath to an object of our focus. A meditation practice called maitri or loving-kindness meditation, which I learned from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is one way to send intentions to individuals and groups of people, even from a distance.
The practice asks us to sit on our mats or cushions and identify or visualize the object of our intentions. Really “see” them or an image/symbol of them in your mind’s eye. We might select ourselves, someone we love, a friend, a pet, someone we do not know, or even someone who has wronged us. Anyone who can receive our intentions can be the object of our practice. Once we select an object, we send them four messages of loving-kindness:
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be safe.
May you be at ease.
Notice how the experience shifts based on who is receiving the intentions from you. What happens when you send these thoughts to someone you love? What happens when you send them to someone who was affected by tragedy? What happens when you send them to the people responsible for causing harm?
The point of this difficult practice is to notice these shifts, without layering a judgment, and to send all beings who are suffering in some way a dose of loving-kindness. If you can find a place in your heart to send those intentions to someone who has caused harm or hatred, you might also find a depth in your capacity for compassion that you did know existed.
Trust that this difficult practice has powerful results. At the very minimum, it connects us to one another and puts us directly into the action of healing that is required to bring humans into peace with themselves and one another.