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Open Road

by Catherine Watson
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June 2010 Archives

Yoga Thinking

"Pick your journey on your way to Downward-Facing Dog," my yoga instructor said this morning, giving the class a choice of how to get into the familiar pose.

Everyone obeyed, me included, quickly shifting into the position that makes us look a roomful of upside-down V's.

In yoga, you're supposed to let go of distracting thoughts and concentrate on deep, even breathing. It's part of the practice, that letting-go. But I couldn't stop thinking about the instructor's first three words.

"Pick your journey,'' indeed! How strange, I thought, when lately all my journeys seemed to be picking me.

I don't mean the geographic, buy-an-airplane-ticket kind of journeys that temporarily replace daily life. I mean the routine ones, the little ones that take up so much of daily life. That are daily life. How many of those could really be chosen?

For the next few poses - from Forward Fold to Plank to Warrior Two - my body went through its paces, but my mind was on re-wind, tracing the morning's chain of alleged journeys backward to its start.

There was the journey from home to the gym. Before that, the breakfast journey from hungry to full - dry dog food clinking into a pair of stainless-steel bowls on the kitchen floor, dry cereal into a pottery bowl for me.

Before that, our morning walk: Call the two little dogs, snap on their leashes, check my pockets for plastic pick-up bags, lock the door behind us. Before that, the journeys from pajamas to clothes.

And before that, the mysterious journey from sleep to waking. That wasn't certainly wasn't a choice, or at least not very often. Most of the time, including that morning, it depended on the dogs suddenly barking a warning - at a car door slamming nearby, the morning paper hitting the front door, or even the tiny, faint click that precedes my alarm clock's ring.

What choices were there in all that, besides the brand of cereal, the color of t-shirt, the direction of walk? Was that enough to make the results count as chosen journeys?

Thank heavens yoga instructors keep on talking. When my mind resurfaced and I tuned in again, he was gently expanding on the theme. Do it mindfully, he was saying.

Oh, of course! Mindfully. I had forgotten about "mindfully.'' The concept is harder to remember than any pose.

It is how you put meaning into ordinary things, how you turn habits into journeys. You pay attention. You make choices about how you think. You choose to see choices where you thought there were none.

There is an old Spanish saying that fits here. I first heard it on the Camino de Santiago, the great medieval pilgrimage route across northern Spain. It holds another wisdom I tend to lose sight of, but it came back to me now:

"Caminante, no hay camino - se hace camino en andar.'' That makes every step a conscious choice and turns the whole journey, long or short, near or far, into living mindfulness: Traveler, it says, there is no path -- you make your path by traveling.