So I turned 39 yesterday. It was, in many ways, an ordinary day. Little or no fanfare, no dinner at a fancy restaurant, just good wishes. I went to the Y and tried a Boot Camp class that kicked my proverbial arse, but was told by the instructor that I "had potential to stick around." My son baked me a birthday cake from a box (which I have to tell you about in my next post, because it deserves discussion of its own). Though it was a quiet birthday, it felt just right.
This month in yoga, we're focusing on the practice of pratyahara. In a nutshell, pratyahara involves sensory withdrawal, removing the information overload that we live in every day in an effort to draw inward, and pay more attention to the self.
My yoga teacher says that everyone on earth, when we strip away everything else, wants the same things: peace, happiness, and to be seen or known, by ourselves and by others. Though I'm not sure I can agree with such a reductive statement about humankind, I do think that most of us want to be known. And I also agree that sometimes all of the noise--both the noise that the world creates for us and the noise we create within ourselves, with negative self-talk or attachments to worldly things--gets in the way of us knowing our deepest selves. Pratyahara--which we practiced by closing our eyes, blindfolding ourselves, and covering our ears--counters that noise by creating silences: by removing visual or auditory or other sensory distractions.
It so happens that I spend a lot of time in asana with my eyes closed. I know it's not recommended; it's a force of habit. And yet, I never realized why it was so natural until tonight. Yes, in some ways it's relaxing (though I'll warn you, you're going to feel that stretch in your side seam a whole lot more in trichonasana, and it's a lot harder to balance in vrikshasana when you can't focus on a spot on the wall). But it's mostly relaxing because those distractions go away, allowing me to focus on what's happening in the physical body. Once you realize that's what you're doing, that sensory withdrawal is like a laser beam, illuminating one small piece of you at a time.
That drawing inward to look at ourselves, and to gather energy for what's coming next, is a perfect winter activity. The pause, the caesura, the time of waiting. Just as people do physical cleanses, and get rid of the junk food in their lives, so it's important, sometimes, step away from all of the noise. To meet our truest selves. Pratyahara offers one way to withdraw, to restore our senses, to renew.
And in some way, even if I couldn't articulate it at the time, maybe this was my wish for my birthday: to withdraw a little, to go inward, and to prepare myself for what's coming next.
Here's looking at you, 39. I'm ready.
Carrot and Leek Soup
adapted from The View from the Great Island
Good mental nutrition requires good physical nutrition. And though I hate to admit it, sometimes you need something a little better for you than cookies. This is what I ate when I came home from yoga tonight. You can strain it to get rid of the seeds, but I sort of like them, for a little crunch.
1 T. butter
1 T. olive oil
2 t. yellow mustard seeds
2 t. coriander seeds
1/4 t. tumeric
1/2 t. garam masala
1" piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 leeks, sliced (white and light green part only)
1 small green apple, peeled and diced
1 lb. carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
4 c. vegetable or chicken stock
salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
Heat the oil and butter over medium heat in a large soup pot and saute the spices for a minute or two. The seeds will start to pop. Add the leeks and saute for a few more minutes, stirring often to prevent browning.
Add the apple, carrots, and stock to the pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots are tender, about 25 minutes. Puree the soup in a blender, food processor, or with an immersion blender. Add additional water if necessary.