Dressed for Gym Class; Working Out Heart and Spirit

December 8, 2011

“We all, every one of us embodied folks alive on the planet, want to be happy.  We want to have a taste of freedom.  We want to feel good. We want to BE love.”

As yogis, we arrive on our mats to reconcile a very specific trio: Body, Mind and Heart.

We begin with the body because our bodies need the most attending to.  Most people arrive on their mats because they want to get moving.  We sit more often than we should, so we come to our yoga mats to “get physical”.  In essence, we come to our mats to FEEL something.

Plus, everyone has a body.  If you are alive on this planet it doesn’t matter whether you are missing a leg or have green eyes or are deaf or have darker skin or speak french or love listening to the Grateful Dead or have an “innie” or an “outie”, you have a body.  Which means that you come ready made for a direct experience of breaking through some of the tangible barriers in our bodies that frequently make us feel stuck, heavy, tight or confined.

Once we get through the some of the physical junk in the body, we can start to process what our bodies experience.  We can think more critically, although not judgmentally, about what we need, what we are feeling, who we are becoming.

And the more clarity we get around who we are becoming, the more deeply we are pulled into our hearts.  This is the experience we all seek, honestly, when we come to our mats in yoga or really, when we do anything.  We all want to have a direct experience of being in our hearts.

The biggest obstacle to tapping into the juicy goodness of our hearts is that we tend to think first, which literally unplugs us from our bodies.  When thinking enters the equation before simply being, we have all kinds of opportunities to consider why we can’t, won’t or shouldn’t.

Then we end up watching people do the things we want to do, rather than doing them ourselves.  Why have a real experience of skydiving, I can watch Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves do it in Point Break instead?

If we have the courage to do the work in our bodies first, what we discover in our hearts is fairly simple.  It boils down to realizing the things that make us happy, who brings us the most joy and what we want more of in our lives.

Once we have this vision and we get a taste of the authentic heart connection with ourselves, we start to see how we could have those connections with others because everyone else must be asking the same basic questions.  In fact, we start to recognize that in our hearts, we’re not all that different.

We all, every one of us embodied folks alive on the planet, want to be happy.  We want to have a taste of freedom.  We want to feel good. We want to BE love.

As one of my favorite teachers, Christina Sell once said, “We come dressed for gym class to work out our hearts and spirits.”

I find this same parallel in an important part of my own history.  When I was in high school, I participated in a youth social change performing arts organization called City at Peace.  City at Peace brought together teenagers from all over the DC metro area to learn tools to better navigate the world that we all shared.  These tools included non-violent conflict resolution, leadership principles, cross-cultural understanding and the value of creativity, imagination and play.

Each week, early on in the process, we’d get together and first we’d move our bodies.  Everyone had one, no one was exempt.  Often we’d warm up our bodies through various “games”.  Sometimes we’d be waling around the room and suddenly the director, at the time, Paul Griffin, would yell, “Freeze.”  We’d stop in whatever position we found ourselves in.  Other times we had to make eye contact with everyone we passed.  Another favorite was “Sculpture”, in which a theme for the sculpture would be offered (Love, Violence, Betrayal, Peace) and one at a time, we’d enter into the center of the circle and take form, each layering onto what was already offered by the person before us, creating a living sculpture of our experience of the theme.  Those not participating simply observed while we held in the center.

Once we addressed our bodies and felt more at ease with one another, we’d go deeper.  We’d start thinking more about what we’d enacted with our bodies.  We often would do improv, or a game called “yes, let’s”, in which no matter what your partner suggested, you had to say, “yes let’s.”

We also started discussing the issues we faced.  Some scary, some hopeful, some painful.

We told our stories to on another, as honestly and as openly as we chose to offer.  We told our deepest darkest secrets and our wildest dreams.

And then, we’d process all of this by creating, writing and performing a full length musical based on the stories of our lives.

But what we really discovered, beyond the glory of musical theater, is that underneath it all, we shared the same heart.  Despite our differences, we learned how to move with one another.  When we only see difference, we shut out the potential for friendship, empowerment and healing.

At the end of the day, we’d all experienced our share of pain and trauma, as well as real love, joy and connection.  What we gained from this experience was the knowledge that no matter where we grew up or what color our skin was or how deeply our parents scarred us, we all wanted to be happy.  We all want to have love in our lives.  We all want to feel good.

In yoga, we’d call this seeing the diversity in unity.  We all want the same things, but we go about getting those things or experiencing those things in our own unique ways.  So by seeing the diversity in the unity, we actually begin to see the flip: realizing the unity in diversity.

This experience is really what City at Peace aimed to accomplish.

So it breaks my heart to say that as of yesterday, City at Peace DC officially suspended operations and ceased to be.  This program, which I participated in as a teenager in DC, prepared me to do what I do now.  The tools I learned at 15, laid the foundation for continuing this process as an adult.  In fact, it’s the training I did as a teenager in City at Peace, which prepared me to become a yoga teacher almost as much as all of the yoga training I’ve done since.

Sandi Holloway, the current artistic director, taught me to unleash my inner FIERCE, to own my awesomeness and to not be afraid to speak my mind or stand out in a crowd.  Plus she taught me how to dance like Id never danced before.

Every person I met through City at Peace taught me that judgment isn’t fair or even always accurate.  That if we know we all want the same things, can’t we start looking at one another as equals rather than adversaries?  Shouldn’t that level the playing field a bit?

None of us who participated in City at Peace ever would have thought this day would come.  But what we say goodbye to is in name only.  City at Peace itself was born out of the ashes of another organization for youth in DC.  What will be born from this?  Don’t know yet, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

I sit here, in my yoga clothes…dressed for gym and ready to work out my heart and my spirit because I know from experience that the work is worth it.  A million heart felt “thank you’s” to my City at Peace family for teaching me this principle.  Knowing that despite our differences we all share the same heart makes navigating the uncertain currents of the world a little sweeter and easier.

The legacy you leave in this world is rippling out still.

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