"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sweat Lessons

"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


Anonymous said...

Unmet expectations, maybe the cause of all human problems, starting at birth. Certainly something to think on.

Pam said...

Keep at it Deb!That yoga journey sounds a great one.Your yoga progress shines through in this. Obviously not just the sweat that's emerging. Our thoughts never really leave us alone do they,and what a great avenue yoga is in dealing with body/mind/spirit. This is a really succinct piece of writing. You write so well! Thanks for your visits. It's still very hot here and we South Australians continue to hit the drink bottles and wipe our brows big time too!

Janna Qualman said...

Not just limber movement of body, but limber movement of mind. What a wise woman you are, in general, I know it, but in relation to this yoga journey, too. I think your posts about Bikram are some of my favorites; the analogies just shine.

Wanda said...

The true yogini extrapolates the lessons from asana to life. Great piece of writing.

Kelly H-Y said...

I had no idea about the 'second skin'! Wonderful post.

She Writes said...

Fantastic writing. i liked the cadence of words.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

I have a new "yoga for beginners" book sitting on the bookshelf. Thanks for the reminder and I shall remember your wise words and embrace my sweat :)

Tamika: said...

Great post! Sweat forming a second skin- Wow. My mind is reeling with that one.

This blessed me, Deb.

The Unbreakable Child said...

Such insight, vivid imagery, deb. I enjoyed this.

daugh does yoga.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

"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."

Okay, this little section and the one that follows? Seems to have a more emotion. It is January. I guess we need to see what February brings before we reassess. Oh, wait, that's advice for me. Nevermind. I hate January.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

There's something over at my blog for you!

Carrie and Deb - said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Carrie Wilson Link said...

Okay, THIS is my favorite post! Not only is it wise and beautifully written, there is wit and humor throughout. Love the temperature just short of hell, love the ice cube bucket with one cube, love that even alone without relationships at all, it still might work. It's not a funny post, but I smiled all the way through, the healing shines through and makes me grin.


Carrie Wilson Link said...

That was supposed to read still might NOT work, but no accidents! I think it probably would work beautifully! : )

Amber said...

First, every time I read of it, your Yoga journey speaks to me...Calling me. Why do I push it away? I should think about that a bit deeper.

And also, this whole post makes me think how I would pay to sit down and chat with you. Really.


Anonymous said...

I would like to skip over the imagery (yes, perfect, as always) and go right to the content--so on target.

You capture just the key nugget of the lesson, and lay it out there so beautifully (and so easy for me to scoop up and savor!). The message about disappointment and unmet expectations, and how much they are amplified in even the best marriage. And especially about the lessons we learn from our mothers: "beliefs that formed our strongest bond; beliefs that were her survival, not mine. No longer mine."

I know this wisdom comes after years of work and struggle; that just makes me appreciate it all the more. I so value what you write.

kario said...

I suppose it's not trivial that the thought of sitting in a pose, dripping with sweat makes me immeasurably uncomfortable. Not trivial because as I followed the train of thought I became even more squirmy. This lesson is hitting home for me. Thanks for the prompt.

Love you.

M said...

Thank you for this. It gives me a different perspective into the disappointments in my own life...and how I'm dealing (or maybe NOT dealing) with them.

I'm so glad that you are continuing to find healing...and a fresh, healthy outlook to life.
I love you

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Wow--you're my hero. Yoga is insane. You're awesome. And what a great analogy!

Jessica said...

Deb, that's so beautiful about marriage, and what you're learning. I need to learn that too.

Jody Hedlund said...

I really liked this analogy, Deb. Sometimes we need to just grow a little more comfortable with the irritating things in life, those pesky sweat drips. And perhaps over time, we'll cease to notice them quite so much.

Rick said...

What a lovely deep lesson. I'm so glad you wrote this.

patricia said...

I thought about other irritations that might be better served by allowing them to be, rather than wiping them away.

Wasn't it you who I was talking about how, as I get older, it is easier to first, do nothing. A lesson learned with life. You have put words to this thinking beautifully.

Jerri said...

This is why it takes me so long to read your posts: so many phrases and ideas to savor and consider and turn over in my head.

The writing is gorgeous, as always. The connections are fearless and brilliant and sharp in all the best ways.

Why do we all cling to the last ice cube and overlook the steady support? It's one of the mysteries of human nature, I guess.