by Esteban da Cruz
When we step onto the yoga mat to practice or when we sit on the cushion to meditate, we are creating a sacred space within which to observe our existence so that we can learn how to exist more wisely through those observations.
Whether we are cultivating a greater relationship with our art, God, self, love, family, health, or peace, the mat serves as a safe container, removed from the chaos, suffering and confusion which most of us inhabit throughout most of our lives, in which we can put down our rigid defense mechanisms—those walls of rationalization and forced smiles which we must put up for the sake of civility—and be ourselves completely.
We are always ourselves, obviously, but the difference is that when we step on the mat, we can accept who we are. Instead of judging ourselves and perpetuating the constant narrative scrolling through our mind about who we are and how the world functions, we can simply step back and observe whatever is happening with a sense of curiosity and compassion. Whether it is a tingling sensation in the big toe, a feeling of pressure in the abdomen, or subtle changes in temperature in the temples; whether it is a shaky inhale, calm exhale, or uneven transition; whether peaceful thoughts, relentlessly cruel judgements, or moments of space in between them, we can accept all that we see and hold it with gentle acceptance.
Each moment on the mat is a chance to observe our reactions to certain situations and stimulations. Our triggers for anger, jealousy and fear, and our subsequent responses to them, will be similar on and off the mat. This sacred space becomes a microcosm of the macrocosm which is our lives, in which we can observe our micro-reactions and learn to respond to them with the wisdom of restraint. Practicing diligently, every day—if only for one minute of mindful breathing—allows us to begin to trace our reactivities and pain back to their sources. We can begin to observe patterns that manifest moment to moment, week to week, year to year; we become attuned to the seasons of our inner being. In so doing, by creating a safe space within which we can exist and move and observe, we learn to embrace and work wisely with our own patterns, but also come to a greater understanding of the greater human condition.
To realize that we are moving in a body that is dying, to notice that the opinions and ideas which we cling onto are derived from observations made by an imperfect mind which gathers its information through an incomplete lens, to relinquish control over the external circumstances over which we have no control; these are some of the gifts which we can find on the microcosm of the mat.