by Joanna Nobbe
I begin and end every personal yoga practice and every class I teach with a ritual. If you’ve taken my class, you will recognize it: we begin sitting, hands together in front of the heart. First, we bow to ourselves. Then we bow to the space in which we practice. Finally, we open our eyes and bow to each other. We do this at the start of class to mark the transition from buzzing around our daily activities to a dedicated time and place for practice. We complete our practice with this ritual to carry our practice back out into the world with us. By mindfully separating ourselves from our day to practice yoga or meditation, we can better connect the practice to our lives and notice its effects on our outlook and behavior.
In bowing to myself, I bow in respect to myself as a living being. I bow to the validity and truth of my experience of this world. Since every day and every yoga practice is different, I bow in respect for what I feel now, with equal respect for change. Try it now: bow to yourself. Do it slowly and take a full breath with your hands at your heart. What do you feel?
Next, bow to the space, be it the studio, your living room or a spot in the park. Yoga brings awareness to the senses beyond the muscles; we become more sensitive to our environment; what we see, hear, taste (try eating a good strawberry after yoga class!). The senses are the interface of our inner experience with the world around us. By bowing in respect to the space in which we meditate or practice asana, we realize that we are a part of this space. There is gratitude in this bow. If you practice in your home, bow to the space you have created. In our beautiful studio in Inwood, bow with appreciation to the 100-year old building that we are now a part of. Bow to the life and energy that you contribute to the space.
we can better connect the practice to our lives
Finally, we bow to each other. If possible, make eye contact while bowing. If you are at home, bow to the person or people you live with, even if they are not present. By bowing to another, we instantly practice relating to another from a state of gratitude. Have you ever noticed that after a yoga class you feel more friendly, more likely to have a chat with your neighbor? Equally possible: have you ever had an intimate experience with yourself during class, then afterward feel like quietly slipping away and just going home to be by yourself? Both are equally fine and good, and both teach us that a mind body practice of any kind moves us from the inside out.
Bow to yourself. Bow to the space. Bow to another. Observe how this practice feels at the beginning and end of your practice. Did the feeling or meaning change between the two? Do you feel more sensitive at the end of your practice than at the beginning?
Ultimately, the ritual itself is not inherently sacred, but the attention and meaning you enrich it with is. If you have your own personal ritual that helps you transition into and out of your practice, do it! Use this ritual to both separate your practice from the rest of your day, but also connect your practice to your life. Namaste!