The Mona Lisa is independently famous of the artist who rendered her on canvas. Da Vinci is certainly stand alone famous, too, but Mona Lisa is pop culture famous. But I’m not writing about that right now. I just want to talk about Mona Lisa’s smile.
Look at her, all enigmatic and peaceful. At one time I thought that to have that sort of calm quiet expressing itself on one’s face there must be a touch of madness there. She doesn’t look mad at all. She is the very opposite. Her hands are folded comfortably across her body. She is the perfect representation of a lady in contemplative repose, and obviously there is something in that contemplation and repose that turns the corners of her lips up, ever so slightly. I think if her smile was off just a fraction, she wouldn’t be so famous. But her smile says everything without letting a single soul in on the secret.
Everyone wants to know what makes Mona Lisa smile. Who doesn’t want to be that self-possessed and peaceful? I’ll have you know I don’t sit around meditating on Mona Lisa, my life’s purpose doesn’t include art history – at all. But on my way to work yesterday, the answer to the question I never even thought of asking came to me. I know why Mona Lisa smiles like that. She practices yoga.
Saturday December 4th I arrive at Abhaya Yoga Center downtown. This is a special workshop day with Michelle Baker of Swan River Yoga in New Orleans. I love it when she visits. I love all the chanting and incense and the different flavor of her style. Yoga friends with whom I don’t always get to practice are on their mat on Saturday. My teacher, Nancy, is on the front row two mats away from me. Sudevi, my very first yoga teacher ever, is in the back row. It’s all-star attendance and I’m surrounded by friends.
It is a challenging class. One would think yoga is always challenging, but not so. I find I arrive to a class and receive whatever I’m needing that day. Sometimes I’ll arrive for Nancy’s Happy Hour class, thinking I’m in for some torment and I’ll find nurturance there. Conversely, the ‘Slow Flow’ can make me sore in muscles I didn’t know yoga used. But the challenges on Saturday are beautiful and expressive. We are encouraged to try new things, or to just push the limits of poses in which we already feel confident. We talk about things that make my mind vibrate, like the 5 acts of Shiva and the reflections of Shakti. And of course between the rich music and confident hands of our teacher we receive a very special infusion of love.
I have to work Saturday night. I arranged not to have to go in until six, which gives me plenty of time not only for the workshop but for lunch afterwards. But I do eventually have to go put on my uniform and re-enter the really real world, at least for a little while.
Work is about forty minutes from my house. During my drive I’m thinking of all the things I learned in the workshop. I’m thinking of how hard one thing or another was and how easy something else might have been that I’d not even considered being able to do. I’m happy thinking of what a good yoga partner Jamille was when we paired up for back bends. When I go under the graffiti bridge I smile, and my face just sort of stays that way.
This is when the thought occurs to me that I know why Mona Lisa smiles. It’s not just from a three hour workshop, either. I was just able to quantify this on Saturday. The truth is, I can walk into Nancy’s Happy Hour yoga class with my brow furrowed and maybe my shoulders a little hunched, but when I leave I feel content, that tender little smile playing on my face. I may drive to Fort Walton for a yoga class and get stuck in traffic, maybe it’s raining so I can’t see landmarks, which I need because I’m not so familiar with the area. I’m tense and maybe a little lost. But I make it for class and when I leave I notice those old oaks overhanging the studio, which I didn’t even see when I arrive with my mind in flights of fury.
Mona Lisa’s smile bubbles up from the inside. It is unanswerable to anyone else. This smile isn’t even for anyone else. It’s just an expression of this deep contentment, this happy calm.
Of course, sometimes yoga smiles are exceedingly jubilant and rock star, as seen here. From left, Michelle Baker, Nancy LaNasa and moi. Thank you ladies.