The mind constantly stays in a state of either hyperactivity or drowsiness, creating an endless loop. “Your mind is like a monkey, and it is intoxicated, and it has been stung by a bee,” according Manisha Sharma, yoga teacher and Virginia Tech alum. This illustrates why we have a hard time controlling agitation. Currently, she teaches the PED 109: YOGA class at New River Community College that introduces these practices and teaches postures to a packed classroom of students.
Sharma’s solution to controlling agitation is to “tell people what to focus on until they glide and feel a bunch of nerve impulses that comprise the body.” Like Advil for a hangover, correct the root of the disturbance in the mind, while focusing on the imbalance causing it.
Sharma, my yoga mat and I entered our interview similar to how we previously entered meditation — with a complete sense of awareness. My arms were still tingling, as if sand were slowly being poured over my hands as I scribbled notes. The pen, and the fingers that cradled it, were heavier. The pen moved on its own; I began to question the existence of ghosts hiding in the Blacksburg Community Center. I swallowed everything Sharma said.
“I loved getting lost (in yoga), but you feel things more as you get older,” Sharma reflected in her lotus pose. After starting the yoga practice at 18, she attended S-VYASA Yoga University in India, and eventually began teaching until she was accepted to the Virginia Tech MFA program in creative writing. Originally, she had no intention on teaching in the United States, and was planning on letting the practice she learned die alongside her.
What the United States mastered in yoga was the execution of perfect poses, but fell short on the presence of shavasan and breathing, says Manisha. Manisha says that yoga without shavasan, or corpse pose, is “like going to the beach without even touching the water.” She believes that others needed to feel yoga the way it was intended, but with the scientific, physical aspect the West adapted.
Yoga, like a cathartic octopus, is an umbrella term that includes all eight limbs of yoga as defined by Patanjali. Sharma’s practice incorporates yoga postures, asana and emphasizes the fourth limb, pranayama or breathing, throughout her classes at the New River Community College.
Its focus is primarily on maintaining postures and teaching students how to create a yoga mindset, while lectures are considered secondary. The course is an introduction for anyone attending the community college who wants to start their journey toward understanding yoga as a headspace, not just an exercise.
It wasn’t until I participated in Sharma’s cyclical mediation class, Conscious Engagement, that I became fully aware what yoga felt like.
Cyclical meditation, which is different than the eyes closed, stereotyped-in-movies representation, is a combination of slow yoga postures and guided meditation where instructions are said aloud by the mediator. Walking into the Blacksburg Community Center at the ripe hour of 8 a.m. on a Saturday was daunting, since I didn’t know whether to expect a sweat-drenched yoga class or an out-of-body experience. Don’t be intimidated by the hour and a half class time; toward the end, it’s hard to believe that it went by so fast.
The class started with controlled breathing and chanting orchestrated by Sharma. What made my awareness come into fruition was her perfumed voice, the voice of a poet, telling the class where to concentrate our feelings and where to feel the nerve impulses in forgotten places like our ears, fingertips and ankles.
Our bodies go through great lengths to support the weight that gravity pushes down on us. During one pose in particular, we raised our arm so slowly, at an almost undetectable speed, until it was grazing our ear, which lasted about five minutes. I loved how my arm became a 40-pound weight filled with intense vibrations cutting up my arm, which were more overwhelming than painful. The sensation of my arm touching the ear was jarring, but felt supernatural, as if the energy around was moving me. I had forgotten everything, besides how the arm tapped the hair that grazed the ear.
Yoga is more than a physical exercise. It is a process of “using the amount of energy that is considered efficient,” Sharma said. Yoga, prior to this, had been a way to strengthen and build my body, but soon I realized that I had been forgetting to nurture my mind in the process. Awareness is a part of yoga; it has always had that component, but modern interpretations can make the body distracted. Sharma discussed how commercialized forms of yoga, like goat yoga and wine yoga, are ignorant to the practice, and abandon the awareness that connects the mind to the body.
“Even people who do not practice yoga can still get into a yoga process,” Sharma explains. She compares it to having a date with yourself. By practicing cyclical mediation, being aware of your body’s contact with objects, you can make any activity yoga if you are aware of it.
The fee for a yoga class is $20 per session, but Sharma is willing to accommodate if needed so that everyone can participate. It’s hard to write anything negative about her meditation class, since it is a happening that humans of all ages and stages should live. I admired how the class strips yoga down to its bones, leaving the people interacting with the objects around feeling naked and vulnerable, yet unburdened.
The class won’t cure a disease or make relationships stronger, but it will train the mind to manage and love your fears, not ignore them. College students, especially, have a difficult time finding moderation within the mind, teetering between hyperactivity and drowsiness. This class helps to find that middle space of mental moderation that can enhance the ability to balance stress and serenity.
After my experience, everything I did felt like yoga — the way my hand felt under running water, how my feet crunched on grass at the farmer’s market, even the nerves jumping from the tips of my fingers when they hit the keyboard. “(With practice), you can even get to a point where you feel nothing,” Manisha said. I haven’t felt that close to myself in years, and the feeling of nothing sounds more exciting than the fear of being.