Relaxing into the week

Yesterday I lucked into some weekend free time and decided to use it to go to the gym. I was immediately faced with a choice: strenuous exercise or something less taxing? 

Part of me felt like I should use my precious workout time to burn a bunch of calories. But right at the time when I was able to make it over to the gym, there happened to be a yoga class scheduled called “Yoga + Mindfulness.” I’ve attended plenty of yoga classes that have knocked me into next week (anyone ever tried Bikram yoga? Holy…), but the description of this one led me to believe I’d leave feeling refreshed and reconnected. I really wanted that on a Sunday afternoon. So I decided to save the swimming or running for another day.

This class was so good. It started with about 10-15 minutes of guided meditation. The teacher encouraged us to sit comfortably on our mats and breathe, not in any particular rhythm, just paying attention to the breath and settling into ourselves. I was reminded of how much I like listening to someone talk me through meditation sometimes. It’s more comforting, and easier, than sitting in complete silence (though I like that, too, for different reasons). The teacher incorporated some light movement after a few minutes – rotating head and neck, gentle twists. The middle 25 minutes involved a series of stretches. And the last 20 minutes included some progressive muscle relaxation, tapering down to Shavasana, or corpse pose.

It was a reminder of the power of devoting quiet time to meditation and reflection — and it was so cool to move simultaneously. Combining light movement with mindful awareness helped me reconnect to my physical self. There was no agenda, no pressure to do anything perfectly or even “right.” I was able to keep my eyes closed for most of the class, because it wasn’t complicated — I didn’t have to keep looking at the teacher to figure out what to do. It did prompt me to notice some aches and pains I was experiencing, and I felt myself releasing stress and anxiety. 

I often write and talk about the mind-body connection, and this was a powerful, experiential reminder of how integrated mind and body really are. The more we can nurture this connection and take care of ourselves emotionally and physically, the less prone we are to stress and burnout. Sometimes taking care of ourselves physically involves running or cycling or Stairmaster-ing — pushing ourselves, maybe getting into the flow with some music. But other times it’s about moving at a slower pace… inhabiting, noticing, pausing, stretching, being. 

You DEFINITELY don’t need a gym membership to get the benefits of gentle movement and meditation. Search YouTube for restorative yoga, yoga and meditation, or Yin yoga, and click around until you find something you like.

What are you most in need of today? Strenuous release or gentle restoration? Or both?