What David Foster Wallace taught me on Yoga and mindfulness

The small flickering flame caught my eye, dancing within cold grey metal bars. Like a marionette being pulled by its puppet master, I found myself inching closer and closer to the glimmering ball of life, peering through the holes of its lackluster cell. The words of my yoga teacher reverberated in my mind: “breathe in, breathe out.” Inhaling deeply, I could make out the scent of lavender and mint, a familiar scent in aromatherapy. Feeling rejuvenated, I took a deep breath and walked inside the room “vitality,” one of the many rooms in the yoga studio, where I practice my yoga asanas.

For as long as I can remember, I have always had trouble finding peace of mind–my thoughts are like thick, tangled webs intertwined with each other, in a jungle of forking paths. Oftentimes, I rue my short attention span, and inability to fill that empty void inside me. So, I tried all sorts of activities–from tennis, to wall–climbing, Archery, Krav Maga, and the list goes on. Until one day, a friend recommended that I try yoga.

“I just have this gut feeling, that you will love it,” she said, gushing about how yoga had changed her life

The first time I attended yoga class, I felt that years of searching for peace of mind, finally bore some fruit. For the first time in two years, I felt so calm, and unperturbed, as if I were floating in a vast river, moving, without a final destination. Since then, I’ve committed to attending the class, as often as I can. It’s quite unorthodox, really. There are no “fixed” rules. No dictums to abide by. No norms to conform to, and no one to judge you– because we all came for the same reason–to explore the wonders of our body and our mind, and to dedicate time for ourselves. Our instructor emphasized the importance of paying attention to our breath, listening to our body, and holding space for ourselves. There is no pressure to get a pose right, and nobody will judge you, if you decide to rest in the middle of a sequence. In fact, our instructor encouraged trying many different “variations,” to different “poses” to adapt to our bodies– Of working hard, but not overtly exerting yourself; of accepting your limitations, and letting be, but at the same time, striving to improve in all aspects of your life.

For a long time, I’ve wondered, what it is in yoga that helped me find the elusive “peace of mind” that I have been searching for a long time. Then, one day in Philosophy class, we discussed a commencement speech, by David Foster Wallace, to a graduating class in Kenyon college–the piece, captioned as “This is Water,” held one of the keys to my many questions in life.

David Foster Wallace emphasized the importance of choosing our thoughts–of learning how to think:

“Learning how to think” really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.”

And that’s the hidden quality of yoga–mindfulness, and attention.

At the beginning of every yoga class, the instructor always emphasizes the importance of “setting an intention” to dedicate our practice to–it can be for a loved one, or for yourself, or a quality that you are working on achieving. Then afterwards, we stay in child’s pose and we breathe. We pay attention to our breath and listen to what our body is telling us.

And we learn to practice the same mindfulness in yoga class, outside the yoga mat–we take our “intentions” to the chaos of everyday life, and learn to construct meaning from our experience.

Samantha Tan, JTA- A


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