Whenever I go to yoga, I face the same question. To wear or not to wear my glasses, that is the question. To see the teacher’s graceful demonstrations of various poses, or to squint and attempt my own semi-artistic renderings. To risk spending half the class pushing my glasses up my nose, or to give my eyes a break and let other senses prevail. I usually leave my glasses in the cubby hole, haphazardly tucked in a shoe or between layers of clothes. Wear my contacts, say you? Gosh, that would just be too practical.
Last night I did just so. I grabbed a blanket, rolled out my mat, and closed my eyes while waiting for the class to start. At the studio, the walls are painted in soft grays, reds, and oranges. Little Tibetan prayer flags hang from the ceiling and dance in the warm air blowing out of the nearby vent. The windows are frosted. There are no mirrors. An invitation to look inward and forget about appearances. I spent most of the class with my eyes closed, stretching, huffing, puffing, and being intensely aware of the various parts that make up this body of mine. The neglected ones, the favored ones. In the absence of visual input, suddenly it’s not so hard to be aware of your paraspinal muscles or your sacroiliac joint. Suddenly you can feel your posterior ribs expanding with every breath. Gradually you find that you can open those hips just a few more millimeters. And ever so slowly, you reconnect with your body, which, by the way, is the sum of many, many parts. You realize that your left side is tighter than you right side because you favor it when standing for what seems like forever during morning rounds. Your neck has a painful kink in it you had failed to noticed until now because you were too busy holding tension in your shoulders. Your fingers can bear more weight than you ever imagined. Your stomach looks incredible flat when in backbend pose no matter your body habitus.
With your visual cortex deprived of any input, the rest of your Mind has a chance to manifests itself. It may bubble up slowly or lash out with such unexpected fury you might need to retreat to child’s pose for a few minutes. As you awaken inch after inch of muscle and skin, twisting and bending, inhaling and exhaling, the emotions pour out without the littlest effort. Perhaps you realize you were holding on to something and work through it with each deeper breath you take. Perhaps you start crying. Or you feel light as a feather and do the splits for the first time. Your eyes are closed and yet everything is illuminated.
At the end of practice, the teacher invites the class to “seal in the tone we have created during practice.” We cross our legs, bring our hands to heart center in prayer, and bow our heads ever so slightly. A sotto voce “Namaste” lingers in the air. Some stand up right away, others linger. I bend over and touch my head to the floor. I am not religious, yet that moment can only be described as divine stillness. And so I stay down, soak it up, and seal it in for as long as I can. Which is usually 2 minutes. Until the next practice.