“Man needs difficulties; they are necessary for health.” ~ Carl Jung
I did my yoga teacher training at the age of 53, in a bustling, young yoga studio in North Naples. The instructors were informative and motivating, and the experience was one I will forever be grateful for. It took eight weekends, spread out over three months to fulfill the 200 plus required hours. We would start on Friday afternoon and stay until 10 or 11 at night. Saturday and Sunday classes began at 8 AM and lasted well past my usual bedtime, but I was too engaged in the activities to notice the fatigue until I got home at the end of the night. Once I reached my bed, I would drift into a satisfying sleep born of physical and mental exhaustion.
It was early in the training process when we first invited the concepts of distraction versus focus into the discussions. I thought I was pretty good at keeping my focus, especially if I was interested in the subject and just about everything we talked about in yoga training was fascinating to me. But there was this one, consistent distraction that seemed to gain momentum from one class to the next. The distraction was living and breathing and moving and talking. The distraction had a name, and as much right to be in the class as I did, because she was a fellow student.
I am a rule-follower. At least most of the time. My husband sometimes calls me “Fair and Square Laurie” because I follow directions and do as I’m told. Most of the time. But this Distraction in my yoga training did not. She would show up late, plopping her mat and her books on the floor with a slap and a thump, as the rest of us sat in silence. When the class flowed through the sequence of a Sun Salutation, Ms. Distraction chose to curl into Child’s Pose in the corner. And when the instructors spoke, the Distraction argued with them. As time went on I became more and more distracted by Distraction. She was sabotaging my whole experience! I would purposefully seek her out, then choose a seat as far from her as possible. In my head I would angrily chastise her for being so rude and distracting to the rest of the group. It wasn’t until we were at least half-way through the months of training that I realized that she was completely unaware of her effect on me. It wasn’t her problem. It was mine.
Our daughter, Mary also went through an intensive, yoga training, but she traveled to the heart of yoga country to do it. She spent a month in India, at a remote ashram, under the guidance of a guru, learning the joy, the discipline, the theory and the practical application of yoga. Mary returned from that experience noticeably transformed. Her body radiated health and her words, her actions and the energy that surrounded her had softened. It was the palpable change I saw in our daughter, from her yoga experience, that inspired me to go to North Naples for a yoga training of my own. She told us many stories related to her experience in India but one that I found especially affecting involved the time she spent in meditation.
Meditation in India meant spending hours every day, seated in silence. That is, meditation in this particular ashram in India, meant spending hours every day, seated in silence with the occasional interrupting cow. According to Mary, the room where meditation was practiced was located in a building that sat in a field where cattle roamed freely. The windows of this building were open to the outside, and the curious cattle often stuck their heads through the windows to greet the humans seated on the floor with a neighborly “Moo”! Clearly, distractions come in all ways, shapes and sizes.
In our beach yoga practice, we are surrounded by distractions. Unlike the quiet confines of an interior studio, we are in the open air (wind, rain, sun, fog). We voice instruction over the sound of the surf, distant laughter, the muffled beat of music, and the hum of an occasional drone. Our eyes may focus on the horizon but when a dolphin breaks water, we are distracted. Sea Gulls sometimes step on the mat with us, and crows explore our bags and shoes.
So, how do we practice yoga when there are so many sensory interruptions begging for our attention? For me, learning to focus through disruptions and scattered thought is the entire purpose of yoga. Here’s how it works for me:
- I always start with the breath. We’re going to breathe whether we pay attention to it or not but if we actually follow an inhale as it enters our body, and experience an exhale as it leaves, we realize that the energy that is circulating through us creates a calming effect. At the same time that an inbreath brings us life-sustaining oxygen, it sweeps away the unnecessary goods, leaving peaceful space in its wake.
- Drishti gaze. This is a yogic term that simply means looking at something with concentration. We are looking at things all day long but how often do we actually see what we’re looking at? Can you look into your cup of coffee and notice something new about the liquid inside? If you looked at a leaf on the shrub outside your door, could you see past the color green and follow the line of just one rib of texture? On the beach we might drop our gaze to the sand in front of us, but our focus could be on a single sliver of a broken shell.
- Holding a posture. Why do we even do this? The answer is not so we can all look good in a headstand. We don’t practice yoga so we can touch our toes or fold our ankles over our ears. Flexibility is often a side benefit of yoga practice, but coming into a posture, and then taking the time to hold it is similar to breathing mindful breath or concentrating on what you’re looking at. Holding a posture is observing what you feel when you’re in it, not how you look once you’ve arrived. When I practice standing on one leg I might feel calmly stable or unsteadily off-balance. Just like in my everyday life. There are moments when everything feels proportioned and steady and there are days when a familiar task takes extraordinary effort. If I practice standing on one leg in yoga, even when I’m tired or unsteady, I might discover the fortitude, the endurance or the strength that can be carried off the mat and into my everyday life.
No life is lived without challenges. Every day a cow is going to peek its head through the window and interrupt us with a “moo.” How we react to it, how we allow it to affect is, are lessons that can be learned through yoga practice.
Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.