In my yoga class this week, we considered the notion of “alignment.” As a Hatha yoga teacher, this concept is central to how I teach. The most fundamental, obvious understanding of alignment in asana practice (the act of putting our body into a particular sequence of shapes) is to be sure that we line up all our parts in a way that allows for the fullest expression of the particular pose, enabling us to get the most benefit and not hurt ourselves or anyone else.
An even deeper understanding of alignment is an individual awareness of where we are and what we need. This means that even though the teacher might cue a particular alignment, our individual energy and experience may require an adjustment. This level of alignment requires the student to practice discernment, to trust themselves to know what they need and to honor that need.
Another quality of alignment we practice in yoga is “union” or mindfulness, which simply means making an effort to have our mind, body, and heart in the same space at the same time. We are conscious of our body, our breath, our thoughts and emotions. We cultivate a quality of curiosity about our experience and generate a sense of compassion. We show up for ourselves. We don’t abandon ourselves. We are integrated and whole, making space for whatever might arise as we practice, and not judging any of it as “good” or “bad,” not judging ourselves as good or bad. The intention is if we are fully present, all our parts, and we approach our experience with curiosity and compassion, that we can learn to be with whatever shows up, respond with wisdom and skillful means, and that this will serve us both on and off the mat, enable us to be of service to others.
I’m trying to find this sort of alignment in my life off the mat, (off the cushion, off the page, off the leash). I tend to lean towards the dark, the difficult in life. I’ve always been that way. When people around me were clinging to the positive trying to keep themselves afloat, I was diving down into the deep asking “yeah, but what about this?” As an introverted Highly Sensitive Person, if there is suffering it is incredibly difficult for me to ignore it. I’m completely open and vulnerable, like a sponge, completely porous. I naturally have a much lower tolerance for engaging with the world because of this, and yet I also am driven to connect and to help.
For a lot of years, my boundaries weren’t great. I worked a people intensive and demanding job at a university for two decades, I was a teacher on and off that campus holding space for people working with hard stuff, and was in a series of harmful relationships with difficult people, experiencing trauma on a daily basis. All of this lead to a pretty significant state of burnout. Add to that recent events — the impeachment trial, the SOTU (where Rush Limbaugh was awarded a Medal of Freedom), DTs behavior at the National Prayer Breakfast, what happened to this sweet little girl, and a person I love whose addiction is spiraling out of control — and I feel completely and utterly overwhelmed. I internalize all the stink and the shit, hold it, carry it around, all that sad, all that anger, and at some point it gets too heavy and the only options are to collapse under the weight of it, let it bury me, or to put it down and walk away, to heal, to restore, to get strong enough to try again.
So I’m trying to shift my focus for now. In no way do I intend to swing the other way and start practicing toxic positivity. I’m not burying my head in the sand or ignoring what’s happening, but I am turning the volume down — which in and of itself is an expression of my privilege, that I can choose to engage or not, that much of the suffering happening in the world isn’t part of my direct daily experience unless I decide to let it in. That said, I’m tuning in to where I’m at and what I need, working to trust and honor myself, approaching my experience with curiosity and compassion so that I can learn to be with whatever shows up, respond with wisdom and skillful means and hopefully in this way be able to help.