Off the Mat: Stay


Many of my yoga students are surprised when I share that the seminal text on yoga doesn’t describe physical poses at all. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written down about 2,000 years ago, collects aphorisms passed from master to student in the oral tradition. Scholars describe them as talking points, bullets, or pneumonic devices, chanted to memorize the concept. Patanjali would’ve have done well with PowerPoint.

Of the almost 200 verses, less than 2% talk about physical yoga postures. There’s no mention of downward dogs or triangles. Rather, these few lessons center on the purpose of the posture. In short, stretch your body so you can sit comfortably, with steadiness and ease, to do yoga.

Postures get us ready to do yoga.

The majority of the Sutras contend with how to focus attention and quiet the mind. One verse basically says it doesn’t matter what you focus on, just choose something!  Sit with steadiness and ease, breathe, focus attention, repeat. By doing so, the mind will begin to still, freeing us from the exhausting perseverations, nagging, and judgments of our inner dialogues and the mania of our outer lives. Choose a focus. Keep at it. Keeping coming back. 


Can’t you stay? Why not? Tell your client you’re sick. Call her and cancel. Stay here. My son’s side of the conversation Thursday morning, classmates swirling for a snack. I’m drawn in, hooked a bit. Though I have no intention of calling in sick to work, his questioning strategy keeps me longer. We both know it. I’m caught off guard by his desire for my presence. He reached the no-hugs-at-drop-off milestone during camp last summer. Apparently, my involvement in his classroom is different.

Since I teach Thursday nights, I’ve committed those mornings to volunteer in his second-grade classroom. Arriving during group reading lessons, I observe the movements of 17 young bodies and minds as they parse spelling rules, inference, and grammar. Then I experience the pleasure of being read to, giving reluctant readers a little extra 1-1 attention: one whose vocabulary is small but growing; another who underestimates her smarts, choosing easy material; one whose negotiating skills lead me to read to him as often as not.

Helping them concentrate, line by line and page by page has become my own delightful discipline. I show up. Returning, again and again, making a practice of my participation, I build a connection. I witness flashes of wisdom in these bright minds growing in a challenging world.

Doing so brings me joy. So I’m attempting to bring my focused attention to other parts of my kiddo’s day, as well. Actually listening to the details about his Minecraft worlds, for instance. Inside, part of me screams in boredom, not caring one iota about how to construct Redstone power circuits. But I don’t have to be in charge every moment. I can observe, learn, share my attention. Contemplate the sparks ricocheting through his mind.

Return my attention, again and again, and again. Take my yoga off the mat and into the mundane day to day. Where connection lies.

[Photo credit: (cc) Stuart Williams]


Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice.


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