As I teach two prenatal yoga classes every week, I have the honor and joy of watching incredibly strong women embody the true spirit of Warrior poses. I can actually see the energy rising up through the soles of their feet and into their core to support the amazing act of creation they carry within them. There is a courage, a dignity and strength of force there that is palpable in the room. It is, for me, an experience and one that brings me, each class, into a new appreciation for the beauty and strength that is woman. The energy of these movements is the embodiment of grace. Grace representing the fact that each one of these women has opened their hearts to the potential for immense joy and immeasurable loss and grief. No words are required. Through movement and intention, the expression of strength and grace is clear and concise.
Last weekend, I was able to catch the very end of the playoff game between the Steelers and the Ravens. While I can’t say that I am a fan of football in general, there is something so very beautiful about watching the Steelers right now. The coordination combined with strength and expression of sheer will as well as the skill combined with brutality and violence is something to behold. Not only are these men amazing athletes, but they have the courage to take a flying leap into a pile of men and to throw their bodies with incredible force and at high speeds into one another. As anyone who knows me can appreciate, if a ball (or anything else for that matter) is coming my way, my only instinct is to duck and cover. Therefore, I have this incredible awe and appreciation for what is being required of these men in this game.
After the game, we were flipping through channels and found the Miss America pagent. It was already the swimsuit competition and about 40-women in identical black bikinis and heals were walking accross the stage in various choreographed formations. Each one beautiful, young, in great shape, smiling and basically, half naked on national television. I don’t have a problem with naked and these women were easy on the eyes to say the least. But, let’s be honest here– a bikini is really underpants and bra made for swimming and, well, you can’t swim in heels and I didn’t see a pool anywhere nearby. Immediately, I thought of the national news stories of the past year that involved mothers being asked to leave airplanes and coffee shops because they were breastfeeding. These mothers were offending those around them by, horror of horrors, exposing some of their breast! The NERVE! Even more GROSS—they were using this breast to, yuck, feed their baby. Did I mention, in PUBLIC? And yet, here before my eyes were lots of breasts and bellies and butts on display all balancing on top of high heels for maximum effect.
And what was the effect? I felt that the effect was that these intelligent, athletic and beautiful women were weakened. After the bikini competition, they all ran off frantically to get on their ballgowns and then they raced around preparing for the talent competition and then they were given the time to answer one significant political or ethical question with a maximum of one sentence. The whole experience gave the image of the ideal American woman as one who is perfect in every way, but frantic and weak as they rush mindlessly around trying to look good and irish dance and talk about globalism all while trying to balance on the tip of a heel on national tv in their underwear. I felt none of the awe that I do in a room full of women doing prenatal yoga or the immense respect for the football players.
The more that I considered the issue, I continued to return to the idea of mindfulness. The weakness of the Miss America contestants really had nothing to do with their dress or the different aspects of the competition, it was due to the frantic nature of the timing. It wasn’t just whether or not they could meet the tasks required, it was about how fast they could meet each task. The pregnant women are focused, the football players are focused, but the contestants were both naked and engaged in a process that took away their ability to be mindful. It made them seem silly and took away from the actual value of their talents and accomplishments. It made the winner seem arbitrary and, most likely, set all of the contestants up for some level of trauma. How long must it take to process that experience when they didn’t even have a chance to experience it?
My conclusion is that there is great strength in mindfulness. My analysis has shown me clearly that frantic behavior weakens even the strongest, most talented and intelligent. The way that our culture supports the idea that multi-tasking is a virtue leads us to weakness and creates a kind of deep seated stress and trauma. Making a commitment in the moment, centering through the intention of that commitment and then following through with grace is the only path to the result that we honestly desire. Yoga and meditation provide us with the means for learning and practicing these skills in a safe environment. No matter how frantic our rush to class was, how crazy our day, how stressed we feel, once we put out the mat and start to breathe we re-gain our strength. We are no longer the young woman in her underwear and heels on tv trying to sing an opera while mentally preparing to answer a question about world peace.