Learning to Swim

February 27, 2022

When I was 17, I started practicing Bikram yoga. Students were to face the mirrors for the first quarter of practice, face the side of the rooms for the middle portion, then either the mirrors again or the back wall to close. We were encouraged to observe our own bodies at times, but the mirrors were not the mainstay of our focus. These were the early days of my asana practice, where I was usually too hung-over to pay too much attention to my reflection.

I practice Bikram primarily to sweat out toxins and feel better. To purge. To rid my self of the negative emotions I called into my life off the mat. To find peace. To get grounded. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this is where I began practicing mantra meditation during savasana. For the first time, I was beginning to cultivate a relationship to the self within. Over the next 13+ years, this connection would deepen then recede, deepen then recede; emotional tides coming in and out of my consciousness to affect me. Getting to yoga was like getting to the shore. How deep I’d swim into my internal world was contingent upon my willingness to surrender to truth. Today, as I near my 30th birthday, that ritual is the same, although one could argue I’ve become a better swimmer in the years of practice.

Something I noticed in my internal explorations over the last few years has surprised me, and up until this point I haven’t had the language to describe it. I’d be practicing asana, diving through the underworld of my watery psyche, when a voice would pop up, like listening to someone call you from shore when you are underwater. It was enough to make me disconnect, a mermaid coming up to the surface to see what, or who, called. What I heard when I came up for air was a voice that yelled, loudly and with conviction, “You should be recording this! Take a photo to share!”  

In those moments, when the practice becomes interrupted by the mind’s conditioning, I sever my connection between the conscious and subconscious self. If I pursue the course of action this thought suggests, I grow legs, return to the store, and become a statue of my former self. Frozen in process- a simulacrum of experience. It gets me to think about the past few years of my practice, mostly self-led, where I favored what would photograph well versus what my body/mind/soul needed. That’s not to say that we should not and cannot mindfully photograph and record our practices, but my practice had lost mindfulness. I was no longer engaging mindfully. Pausing to reflect upon my impulses before taking action. I was at the whim of the urge, no longer in a state of witness consciousness. In those moments, I abandoned the true self in favor of an image to be portrayed, received, and applauded by others. All of us doing a song and dance from shore, saying, “Look at me!” All of us, simultaneously, forgetting how to swim.

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