1/30/14 I've been a victim of the crowded morning commute nearly every morning this year. Through another lens, I'm the cause of my morning sardine-in-a-can commute. If I left the house ten or fifteen minutes earlier I could avoid the masses, guaranteed. What is it that makes us millions of New Yorkers leave for our morning commute at just the perfect time to create the rush hour traffic? Evenings late at the office, happy hour(s) with friends, catching up on DVR. It's probable that no-one was at a late night yoga or gym class. Whatever the cause, the effect is revealed. Another morning, rising out of the house, with little time to think or stray from the routine, and once you've filed onto the crowded train even less time for deep thinking.
So comes the title for this writing, crowded train, crowded consciousness. One of my favorite Sanskrit words or full-on concepts, because every word in that language can be described by a novel, is the chitta. Chitta, often translated as or discussed alongside mind/consciousness and Chitta vrtti in my own description as mental revolutions, is in my opinion best described by a hand motion of screwing a lightbulb into the side of your head our into your ear. Go ahead and try it, it's fun, at least it's funny for others to watch you show it.
Chitta comes up in many of the Hindu scriptures and the Yoga Sutras, where I first learned of it in Vinyasa Yoga teacher training. The sutras, in brief, are terse aphorisms written to describe and codify yoga. The first writings of its kind. Of this weighty, dense, filling material, the second Sutra reads, "Yogash chitta vrtti nirodhah". A loose translation, as Sanskrit to English can only be, states, yoga is the cessation of fluctuations of the mind. Imagine that turning action of lightbulb screwing into your ear slowly coming to stillness. This sutra illustrates your mental revolutions finding a stillness, a peace of mind. For many, the practice of yoga, is all asana or the physical posturing that happens in yoga class. For some, yoga is all-encompassing and has no beginning or end within daily life. In either case, yoga is the attempt at slowing down and focusing body, mind, and breath while shedding the excess.
If you start and end your yoga practice in the mat, I implore you to take it deeper. What I find fulfilling and often times challenging, is extending my practice in this city. And that begins with my morning. I don't enjoy feeling like another rat in the race or worse yet, in a cage. And oftentimes, hustling and bustling around this place gets me to feeling like that. Lately, I've taken up a few new practices. In the morning, I wake up to the sound of the alarm in my phone, but I leave the phone in the next room. I started doing that so my attachment to my phone doesn't start first thing in the morning, even if it does last throughout the entire day. I also leave the phone in airplane mode. I haven't quite worked out what I'll do if there's an actual emergency and I'm unavailable, but for now this is working well. I wait until after I've had some of a morning to myself before I let the texts, daily digest newsletters, email, and other alerts come into my day. And the final most important thing I started doing is to rest for five to ten minutes in the morning. Yes, you'll find me testing immediately after I've spent the night resting, almost every morning now. I set a timer, with my phone still in airplane mode, and style into a seated or standing meditation, or take a restorative or yin yoga pose. Just one pose, just a short time, but so much transpires in that resting mode. My bodily functions that are quite active first thing in the AM begin to quiet, my mind races through my dreams, goals, stray thoughts for the day, which I passively attempt to quiet. Though my body is still, my mind is very much awakening and my work already started for the day. After those restful, active few minutes, I then take on my morning. What I've begun to notice is if I extend that meditative, restorative practice on the subway, I'm no longer a victim of the commute. I've begun to transform my morning ride to be a useful expenditure of my energy. Breathing in, I let my cutest rise, relax my shoulder, align head, neck and shoulders over hips, breathing out, I stay tall and press into the base of my feet. My mind settles into my breathe pattern and the anxiety of a packed train loosens its grip on my consciousness. The chitta vrtti begins to subside. Every breath, opens the nasal passages and back of the throat, and can extend an opening to your heart and center if you allow it. Take on your day, let me know how it goes.