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When I taught yoga to college students, my favorite sessions were always the ones that focused on the core. Ab work is often the most dreaded part of a yoga session–and the most challenging–at least it is for me. (My colleague Ellen O’Brien would likely agree based on her description of the intense core workout she gets in her Y7 class.)
Teaching core sequences gave me a chance to talk about core anatomy—the relationship between the abs and the back, the importance of twisting and bending the side body, and the benefits of a strong core for balance and stability. But mostly I looked forward to teaching it because we could look at “core” from so many different perspectives.
We could address core values and core beliefs. We could think about what it meant to operate from a sense of centeredness. I wanted my students (all of them young women of color) to understand that what we learn on the mat—the flexibility that we discover, the strength that we didn’t know we had, the stillness that we cultivate—can be applied to every situation we encounter.
YJ contributor Pranidhi Varshney makes that point in her story “Why Pain In Yoga Isn’t Always A Bad Thing.” Her article addresses how to find balance between pain and discomfort, challenge and safety in your asana practice. But she also suggests that leaning into discomfort is an opportunity to “learn what could happen if we were to acknowledge pain—our own as well as that of others—and allow it to act as a guiding force toward truth, strength, and connection.”
Working With Discomfort
All of us were forced to face a new pain recently. Between meetings and deadlines, I found myself wiping away tears as news reports dribbled out details of another school shooting. Three little kids, their caretakers, and a troubled young person were all dead. They were strangers to me–people I will never know–but whose loss pulled at my heart. Seven more souls added to the list of 192 people who have died in mass shootings this year.
It’s May. It’s only May.
When such tragedies happen, I’m grateful for the mat and the meditation cushion. I’ve come to understand the importance of having a practice that reminds us of our inner strength and that will help us address our grief, our fear, our anger, our despair–whether we are coping with a national tragedy or a personal misfortune.
But from wise teachers, I’ve learned that yoga is more than a balm in times of trouble—if it’s ever comfortable at all. Our sojourns on the mat challenge and strengthen our understanding of self, our core beliefs, and our sense of purpose, so that when our asana practice is over, we get up with a sense of direction. When things are bad—or sad, or batshit crazy as so much seems to be these days—a strong core and firmly rooted purpose can be our guide. Our practice can help us connect with what we are called to do in this world we live in.
My dharma will be different from yours, but yoga helps us understand and respect that each person’s purpose has value. The teachings ask us to trust the pull of our hearts to guide our actions. I believe that is true even when your heart is broken.
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