“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” ~ Aristotle
I have a friend who can pack the essentials for a 10-day trip in a carry-on bag. By day her outfits coordinate, including jewelry and appropriate shoes, and at night she will have the right dress or slacks for a picnic on the beach or an impromptu dinner with royalty, looking fresh and wrinkle-free straight from her luggage. It’s not so much what she packs, that fascinates me, but instead, how she can get so much volume and variety into such a small space. One day, as she elegantly draped herself in a fabulously paired ensemble, that seemed to appear out of a tote the size of a cosmetic bag, I had to ask, “How did you do that? How can you pack a complete wardrobe into that one little suitcase?”
“It’s easy,” she replied. And then she willingly showed me her secret. Every garment was rolled into a small cylindrical shape. Socks and scarves and jewelry were tucked inside her shoes before being carefully placed inside the bag. Shirts and pants were not folded and piled. They were rolled, stacked and delicately balanced, using every nook and corner of the luggage. I was in awe. Looking down at my over-sized bag, with its lumpy, canvas shell and the corner of an undergarment stuck in the teeth of the zipper, I knew I didn’t have more clothing in my cache, but I certainly had less finesse in arranging it.
Sometimes I see yoga practice in a similar fashion to the purposeful way my friend packs her suitcase, but rather than making room for pants and tops and shoes, in our yoga practice, we are arranging breath and body parts and consciousness in singular moments of time. We manipulate the arms and the legs; we align ankles and knees and hips; we lengthen, we contract; we articulate the breath; and we wittingly leave our thoughts of self-doubt and vanity off the mat. Through mindful stretches and holds we can integrate all the separate parts of our body into one masterful whole of living, moving, thinking and loving.
Recently, my puppy got into the garden and came running to me with a Shasta daisy. The long stem was in her mouth and a bright, coral bloom tethered precariously from her teeth. Thinking I could salvage the flower, I demanded that she drop it. She looked up at me with defiance and gave the blossom a vigorous shake. When I reached for it, she dropped to her belly and snapped the stem away from the bloom. From there she quickly dismantled the flower creating a scattering of orange petals, and tiny yellow stamens, and broken bits of green leaf. The flower was no longer a monument of beauty embedded in the ground, with its colorful face to the sun. Instead, the sum of its parts lay strewn haphazardly, feckless in its disassembled condition.
Our magnificent bodies are a composition of flesh and bone and tissue and space. There is an inherent, mostly universal structure, encased in skin, but all of our parts, must come together and work both independently and as an efficient part of the whole for us to be healthy and balanced. If we’re not paying attention, we can become a collection of separate parts that flop about exclusively. We can be luggage, packed on-the-fly, without regard to purpose, function or placement of the contents. And in the end, we might be the pieces of a flower, scattered uselessly about with no hope of threading together the stem and petals to once again stand in a garden. Unless we take one seed, one spore, one cell of that flower and begin to carefully propagate it. Root it deep into the earth and nourish it with positive energy and the warmth of the sun.
It is always the right time to call together the independent parts of our physical being. To align and to balance, to gather up and to let go. We can carefully position our limbs and purposefully stack our bones to create an open pathway for energy to flow.
If life is a journey, then yoga practice is the ultimately organizer and tour guide. Standing, moving, breathing and living in our body as a whole, through the balanced integration of our hearts, heads and physical beings is the ultimate destination.