By Joyce Englander Levy, August, 2013
One of the many reasons I have fallen head-over-heels for yoga is that it makes clear for me the relationship between what can be seen and what cannot. It shows me how the obvious and the subtle are actually interpenetrating each other—they’re woven together. We get to witness this phenomenon up close when we show up for a downward dog or two.
True, we may be drawn to the practice for very physical reasons—to heal our low-back pain or tone our derriere. But then one day something hits us while we’re shifting into triangle pose, and suddenly we get a whiff of the life force moving inside of us. Suddenly, that pulsation is more interesting than how we look in jeans. There is reverence, at least for that moment.
At least for that moment, because it’s so easy and human to go back to the obvious. Eventually, I find myself wondering, has the tone of my arms improved? Are my abdominals getting stronger? Is my low-back pain gone? Am I sleeping better? How does my bakasana look?
I’m now nine months into being pregnant for the first time, and am surprised to discover how much being pregnant has in common with yoga—it’s that same majestic relationship between what can be seen and what cannot. There it is again: reverence, awe.
Your body goes through so many changes when you’re pregnant, most of which are out of your control. It’s a lot like puberty in that way. And the changes to your physical form become, for better or for worse, a topic of conversation with friends, acquaintances, and even people you meet on the street. Throughout my early pregnancy, many people observed that I “didn’t even look pregnant,” which I often found a little disturbing. (Admittedly, I had made this same observation to friends and acquaintances before I understood how slowly the metamorphosis towards “looking pregnant” unfolds.) It’s a dissonant thing to hear when you feel so much movement on the inside.
I don’t think the issue is about not “looking” pregnant, but rather that we often don’t know something—anything—is there until it’s nine-months obvious, so to speak. I’ve come to understand that being pregnant is very similar to bearing the fruit of anything new: there are often subtle changes, which precede, or accumulate into, big shifts. What can be seen and what cannot are slowly altering with the steady, sattvic pulse of life. I’ve learned that the various stages one goes through when they are gestating a new idea, developing a new project, or creating a new life form may not be so obvious to the naked eye. And laboring anything into existence is typically an arduous process.
Truthfully, I think we are all pregnant most of the time. Not in the literal sense, but, rather, we are constantly impregnated with ideas, goals, worries, and seeds of potential for the life we are living and the life we are helping to create before us.
Noticing the small differences in our various states of pregnancy requires quite a bit of sensitivity. This sensitivity is what I’ve come to learn is the bridge between the obvious and the subtle. I wonder, if we spend our time on our mat nurturing this sensitivity to the small and nuanced, can we become more fertile in the seeds we plant for our future?
Can our yoga practice help us to better wield these tools of sensitivity and attentiveness? Would that help us to avoid injuries and patiently deepen our backbends? Can we better notice the small ways that we hold ourselves throughout the day and recognize that our posture develops or atrophies from these physical habits? If we can experience these patient changes in our physical body, what implications does that have for our lives? Will we notice a deepening relationship between our physical habits and our spiritual well being?
In the August of this hot summer—when we may have more time and opportunity for falling in love, practicing with our favorite Yoga Shanti teachers, relaxing at the water’s edge, and reflecting on what’s to come in the autumn ahead—how can we use this time to become more sensitive, more tuned-in, to the nuances of life? Let’s take the time, so that, as we move towards the harvest of fall, we feel nourished beyond our own needs, and capable of being more sensitive and present to others as well.