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.
“Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.” - George Eliot
Though I much prefer warmer temperatures, Autumn is my favorite season. Change is visible all around us in our natural surroundings. The Fall also displays its movement in transition as the leaves burst with color and then fall. The winds gust and the crops are harvested clearing the land. While our outside world gets more sparse over the duration of the season, our homes in turn get more vibrant with the bounty of harvest, the smells of spiced cooking, and daily brews of tea.
Perhaps it is the constant dance of nature's transitions during Autumn that appeals to the mover in me?
What do you like about Autumn?
- TaraMarie Perri
Mindbodybrew is ultimately about providing a space for written reflection at every step along the yoga path. We hope that by sharing assignments from our Teacher Trainees, we can expand their deep investigation into community-wide dialogue. The following is an excerpt of a piece written by one of our newest, current trainees, Kathy Hartsell, regarding svadhyaya, or self-study.
For me, Svadhyaya means to swim through, sit with, and follow through with the lessons contained in the work of getting to know oneself. This intentional introspection informs the way one engages with and views the world, with shifting of samskara not the object of the work, but often a byproduct of the process. If svadhyaya could be illustrated, I imagine it would be the self sitting with a book of pages made of mirrors. I visualize these mirror pages reflecting imprinted patterns of samskara, each etched in at different depth, each one subject to the gift of neuroplasticity. The willingness to pick up these mirror pages, look at them directly and honestly, and then translate observation into functional value is what svadhyaya currently means to me.
When the concept of svadhyaya was first introduced to me, I couldn’t digest it as something distinct from critical self-analysis. For a while, well-worn patterns of negatively tinged striving, inscribed in ballet studios, academic chairs, and in the environment of my own brain, overshadowed the more subtle, substantive teachings of svadhyaya. The familiar “old” wiring took time to unravel and reorganize, but my relationship with this niyama matured over time. Today, I have a more nourishing relationship with svadhyaya, which has become an anchor for both living and being in the world.
While Light on Yoga emphasizes dedication to sacred literature as a defining part of self-study, I find it more relevant to interpret this directive as simply a call to be resourceful and connected to what is sacred. For me, this includes reading/reflecting on yoga material, studying with senior teachers and conversing with mentors and colleagues about roadblocks and insights. Reaching out in order to more skillfully reach in has become an important part of studying myself, whether it’s with a sutra, a book, a moment in nature, continued education, or a friendship. I wonder if BKS Iyengar would disprove of this loose interpretation, but I find it useful to acknowledge our evolution in this way.
I recently took a class that centered around the idea that the teachings of yoga are found in stillness. We visited this theme in seated meditation and revisited the stillness more than we normally would. It was interesting that I found the repetitive pause somewhat agitating – it was material for self-study.
While momentum from a life of movement creates some degree of initial resistance to prolonged stillness, I have acknowledged that this is a direct route into svadhyaya. Whenever I feel my svadhyaya muddled by the craziness of life, I commit to at least 20 minutes of savasana in my practice, where there is more natural space for reflection. These prolonged savasanas reconnect me to clearer svadhyaya. While I have had this restorative approach for many years, my recent class experience asked me to consider why pausing in the middle of “designated movement time” was so difficult. It asked me look for this in other areas of my life off the mat. I appreciated that such a slight variation of a familiar theme could sketch a question into the journal of my svadhyaya and teach me more about myself.
- Kathy Hartsell