This summer in Hawaii I made a promise to myself to get up and go to the yoga classes offered on the beach every morning. Bubba hung out with the girls, playing in the sand, and jumping over waves while, 50 yards away, a group of 20 or so of us stood on hotel towels in the soft, dry sand and followed a yoga instructor.
Because of the mix of abilities, the class itself was pretty low-key and, while it wasn't the sweaty, intense hour and a half I'm used to at home, even at 7:30am it was 80 degrees outside and the instructors each brought their own flair.
The first morning, our leader was a man somewhere in his 50s or 60s who peppered his poses with anecdotes about boxing (seems he was a boxer in the military), ballet (took classes as a teen), and meditation. Truly a renaissance man, he had moved to Maui to semi-retire and find a new relationship with the natural world. Many of his quips were groan inducing and I rolled my eyes more than once, but some of the things he said were so simple and true that I find myself recalling them often.
"The word yoga literally means 'union.' This is the union of your body and mind. That doesn't mean your mind dictates and your body follows - that's not union. Your mind listens to what your body is saying. Not judges or bosses. Just listens."
"Breathe. Relax. Align. Do this over and over again. Yoga is more about breath and feeling than movement and exercise. Start from the base and build up. Build a strong foundation. Breathe. Relax. Align."
He wasn't kidding. Yoga on soft sand is all about alignment and having a strong foundation. It turns out it isn't about pushing yourself to stay up when you think you will surely collapse. It is about listening to your ankles to see if your feet are aligned before you move up to your knees. I found myself setting and re-setting my foundation, seeking a strong, solid base and looking in my mind's eye to make sure that both feet were pointed forward, my hips were on equal planes, my knees weren't twisted. I can't say that my body was pushed much during these classes, but the calm grounding that comes from truly listening to my body and making sure it has what it needs was more than I thought I would get.
I think about how often I expect my body to put itself into positions that aren't comfortable in order to accomplish something on my mind's agenda. The years I wore high heels to work (not a chance you'll find me in them now) punished my hips and lower back. The hour or so I sit working at my laptop in the front seat of the car without enough room to rest my wrists because it doesn't make sense to go home and come back to get the girls from school mean sore shoulders and tingling fingers at bedtime.
Since that class I find myself occasionally closing my eyes to check in with my body. Breathe. Relax. Align. Hips? You okay? Feet? Where are you now? Shoulders? Do you need to let go? It doesn't happen as often as it should, but I'm certainly more aware that my body has spent an awful lot of time catering to the whims of my mind and I'm trying to even the score a little.