"Try not to wipe the sweat off. It'll help you stay cooler."
At least once a class, the teacher will offer us this piece of wisdom. The advice always comes after a particularly challenging pose where several people (usually the newbies) grab for their towels, which sends a wave of disrupted energy through the room. There's no way to avoid sweat in a Bikram yoga class where the temperature is considered optimum somewhere over a hundred and just short of hell.
Sweating is an integral part of the practice. It means bodies are warmed to a place where deep stretching is more possible. It provides lubrication to make it easier to get into certain poses. It releases toxins that would otherwise pool and poison from within.
If you don't wipe the sweat off, it forms a sort of second skin. Granted it's a skin that drips, but left alone offers protection that allows deeper concentration and a more peaceful session. If you do wipe the sweat off, there's a moment of dryness and a sort of respite that's quickly replaced by more sweat that feels even more irritating on the heels of the relief.
As I was lying in savasana earlier this week, the untoweled sweat pooling in my eyes and running for my ears, I thought about other irritations that might be better served by allowing them to be, rather than wiping them away. The ones that come right back no matter how hard I try to get rid of them. The ones that sting my eyes, cloud my vision, and impair my hearing.
As with all lessons being offered for immediate learning, the list was short. In fact only one item presented itself for reflection. And it would not be pushed away.
A regular part of any life being lived out loud in the full embrace of fellow travelers. The only way to avoid it is to sit very still and not want anything, and not be in relationship with any person. And maybe that wouldn't even work.
Unmet expectations. In a healed heart those register as small stones on the path. In a wounded heart they can manifest as unbreachable chasms with the power to drag a person into the depths of despair.
I know all this, and most of the time am able to accept disappointments as course corrections or opportunities for pause. With one notable exception. My marriage.
For years I've allowed ice bins with one cube left in the bottom, unvacuumed floors, and "I thought I told you that" to avalanche and obliterate sweet notes, bills paid on time every month, and "I believe in you" offered in both words and expressions multiple times a day. Even understanding how out of balance that is, I've been unable to tip the scales in the other direction.
I'm almost there. By not wiping the sweat away, by staying put and not distracting myself, I'm finally ready to look at what it's trying to tell me. About the poisons it's trying to carry away from my heart. Beliefs about men, learned so well at my mother's knee; beliefs that formed our strongest bond; beliefs that were her survival, not mine. No longer mine.
Class is over. I towel the sweat from my face, my neck, my eyes. I drink deeply from my bottle, overflowing the fresh cool water so it splashes down my chest. Settling into a final savasana for the session, I breathe deeply, allowing my body to absorb the work, to rest and adjust to the new landscape.
photo from Flickr