I took my dinner in the dark experience to the mat. Four days later, during my midday Sunday class at Ella Yoga, I sat in front of 12 people—one American, one Latvian, one Russian and nine Israelis—and told them about BlackOut. Only two people had heard of it and one other had eaten there; the rest were “in the dark”. I told them about an extraordinary yoga class I had attended one summer in Philadelphia when a blind man was escorted into a studio, where someone set up his mat and others brought him a blanket and blocks, telling him where everything was. Every few poses I would glance over at him to watch him move his body through the darkness into the poses as described by the teacher. On that day, I realized how important it is to be clear and concise with our words.
At Ella, I told my students, we were going to close our eyes off and on throughout the 90 minutes, sometimes after we got into the pose and at others during the transitions, from pose to pose. We closed our eyes, sat tall and centered, chanted OM one time and then warmed up with side bends and cat and cow. We kept our eyes closed and tucked our toes, lifting our knees and thighs and hips up into downward facing dog. With eyes closed, we inhaled to plank and exhaled to down dog, back and forth to feel our way.
I told my students how when I injured my foot six years ago and sought out a chiropractor, he broke down excess scar tissue and showed me exercises to strengthen the ankle and help the scar tissue lay down correctly. He also taught me to close my eyes, which he referred to as proprioception.
According to Wikipedia, proprioception is the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. It is what allows someone to learn to walk in complete darkness without losing balance. “During the learning of any new skill… it is usually necessary to become familiar with some proprioceptive tasks specific to that activity. Without the appropriate integration of proprioceptive input, an artist would not be able to brush paint onto a canvas without looking at the hand as it moved the brush over the canvas; it would be impossible to drive an automobile because a motorist would not be able to steer or use the foot pedals while looking at the road ahead… and people would not even be able to walk without watching where they put their feet… The proprioceptive sense can be sharpened through study of many disciplines…such as standing on one leg…used in Yoga… Several studies have shown that the efficacy of these types of training is challenged by closing the eyes because the eyes give invaluable feedback to establishing the moment-to-moment information of balance.”
As my students started flowing from down dog to plank to chataranga and cobra, I had them close their eyes for longer periods of time and breathe, to feel the movement from inside. Eventually they stood and did tree pose, balancing on one leg, bending the opposite knee and bringing the sole of that foot into the standing leg. From there, they extended their arms up into a V. Once they were stable, I instructed them to close their eyes. On the second side, I had them stand tall in tadasana and close their eyes and step by step, feel their way into tree. Some were steady. Some wobbled. Everyone focused inward. Their inhales and exhales filled the room.
I shared with them how at BlackOut I wasn’t able to get the food in my mouth each time. And even though we were wearing black bibs, when I went home and took off my shirt, I noticed a fresh, new stain. I had missed and had no idea. Dining in the dark was fun, but not being able to see and having to walk, find a seat, pour water, bring food to our mouths, drink and eat had been humbling. We take such simple things for granted—and don’t even realize.