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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Yoga is my Recess

When I first saw this article in the New York Times last week and read the words "Recess is making a comeback", I'll admit that my first (probably ridiculously naive) thought was: "Wait...making a comeback? Where did it go??" I didn't even realize that not having recess was a thing. But apparently, it is a thing - schools across the country have been slowly and silently snuffing out the one part of the day where kids can be active and - putting aside any discussion of childhood obesity - creative.

Now, I know that academics also encourages creative problem solving (maybe), and Gym class provides activity (if it exists). But the pure play of recess is an entirely different ball game, no pun intended. What I remember the most about recess was that the rules of the game were not imposed on us - we invented them. We had the rare and amazing opportunity to spend thirty minutes each day living in a world of our own creation, and every time we ran out the door onto the playground all that was before us was pure possibility. And there were no grades. No judgement.

This weekend, I attended a workshop with Anusara teacher Todd Norian. This morning, our class was on arm balances, and the theme was "Play." Before beginning the class, Todd took a few minutes to talk about the importance of play in our lives. Play is something you do just for the joy of it, not because you have to or because you're expecting a certain result. We need a creative outlet - a space that is open to expression and possibility, but also free of judgement - in order to have balance.

Something about that statement really hit home for me, because it made me realize how often I bring self-criticism into my yoga, when yoga should be a time to play. Just to make a point, he somehow convinced 30 full-grown adults to run around a community-center cafeteria for five minutes acting like monkeys.

Obviously it is still important to enforce boundaries, to ensure safety and avoid injury, but we need to remember to leave self-criticism at the door. "Why can't my stupid hamstrings do the full expression of this pose?" "Why can't I balance in handstand yet? I must not be working hard enough." Kids have recess taken from them - we take it from ourselves.

When I found yoga in late July 2009, I could barely touch my toes. The only thoughts that entered into my head during the first few weeks/months of practice were pure wonder and amazement. I was awed by the ability of my body to fold further and further in half; to move into a backbend; to hold bakasana until I felt like I was floating. I could do anything.

Todd's class made me remember that feeling - and helped me see how important it is not to let our yoga practice become yet another arena for judging ourselves. The next time you go to your mat, just be open to whatever happens - and remember to play.

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