Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What Does Singing Karaoke, Puppies, and Yoga Have in Common?

They’re all opportunities to be fully present.
I’ll elaborate.

I was at a lovely little English pub (aka hole in the wall) the other night with my pal Fotios, and we were singing karaoke. (“The Distance” by Cake and “Don’t Look Back in Anger” by Oasis to be specific.) And while I was up there, belting my heart out with a microphone in one hand and a beer in the other, I wasn’t worrying about my student loans. I wasn’t worrying about checking my email, or contemplating my car trouble, or anything else. I was just happy, fully alive, crooning “soooo Sally can wait” to a roomful of half-drunk strangers. The past or the future did not matter, because they did not exist. My awareness was entirely entrenched in the beautiful, off-key moment.

You might be thinking “I don’t need to sing karaoke, I don’t really worry about stuff.” Become aware of the thoughts as they float through your head during any given day. You might be surprised where they take you. Maybe your mind swims back to a fight you got into on the playground in third grade (I forgive you, Mark Cohen, for kicking me in the shin.) Maybe you’re obsessing over a future meeting, or scanning through a bazillion possible outcomes. Maybe you’re brain is steeped in a fake argument you invent with an annoying coworker, and your body physiologically responds, clenching your shoulders and jaw—maybe you even mumble a comeback out loud, even though you’re alone in your apartment and this fight is all a figment. (I’ve done this more than I’d like to admit, and I always feel really crazy when I “wake up” from this intense daydream to realize I’m behind the wheel of my car.) The mind is that powerful.

So, what’s your karaoke song?

If you don’t want to sing your way into low-level nirvana, then get a puppy. I find that when I’m petting my roommate’s dog I’m instantly and totally absorbed in the moment. My blood pressure lowers, I’m smiling, gushing in a ridiculous voice: “How is the handsome man?” and “Who is a schmoopy-walla-walla-face-head-Jones-McGee?” (What am I even talking about? I don’t care. I’m happy.) Nothing else matters except for this little bundle of fur and there, hush, I’m present.

And if you have bronchitis on karaoke night and are allergic to dogs, then do yoga. Actually, do yoga regardless.

The practice of yoga and meditation gives us the space to let go of our spindled-up thoughts. We concentrate on our breath and our bodies and our minds without judgment or attachment. Even fifteen minutes of this can be profoundly transformative. And while the first two methods can bring temporal, fleeting sensations of presence, the presence you can develop through yoga and meditation is not limited to your mat. It seeps and sieves into other areas of your life, and suddenly doing laundry is an exercise in pure consciousness. Traffic is a chance to breathe, relax, maybe meditate (with your eyes open, alert, hands at 10 and 2, the whole deal). Chopping celery becomes a sacred task.
Every moment becomes yogic, every moment gets to be the fullest expression of itself.

So go sing, stretch, breathe, and give a dog a hug.
**Thanks to Niji Bentivegna and Alexis Bentivegna's shin, which appears in the photo.