One of my yoga students showed up at class last week looking shattered, and when I asked how she was, she burst into tears. Her youngest brother had just died, and unexpectedly. Her pain was so obvious, but she’d come along to class anyway because yoga “takes her to another place.” I hardly knew what to say other than “I’m so sorry to hear of your loss”, and feeling great empathy. Oh what would I feel if my little brother had died? Such sadness for my aching-hearted student.
Yet this woman finds solace in the place that yoga takes her… I’m only guiding this class of students to feel into their own experience, to notice what’s arising, to stay present with their sense of ‘inner resource’ whether in a difficult pose or a simple one. Through this process people often feel quite changed from the beginning to the end of the class, and I get that! My hope is that this ‘other place’ that yoga creates can become ‘this place’ where it’s common to reside, even outside of yoga class. To be able to call on that deep abiding calm when the going gets tough, whether one has a yoga mat to roll out or not.
This life span, for each of us, has and will contain many bumps along the road – losses, failures, traumas of various sorts. I know that each of these in my life has changed me in some way. A few times it seemed I’d lost connection with my sense of wholeness and might never regain it. I understand the burning of deep loss, the ache of it, the sense of life becoming a barren desert at times. Pain can do that, can become relentless too, so the body can’t rest, the mind can’t cease from endless rounds of obsessive thinking, and the heart just weeps non-stop. Suffering.
In comparison, my life now seems a blissful paradise and I (metaphorically) walk on fields of scented blossom, surrounded by glory and beauty, my heart open to receive and to give. Joy. I am thankful a hundred times a day. Is this what yoga has given me?
I started my small semi-regular practice around 20 years ago in the midst of great personal turmoil and change. This practice has grown and steadied over the years, as has my life. There have been losses and failures and different sorts of pain along the way. But also great happiness, delight, fun, and continual learning. What is vastly different for me today from 20 years ago is my sense of inner resource. Like a fountainhead. From here flows my life.
Does it mean I’ve become a bland, dull and emotionless person who never puts a foot wrong, never experiences ‘highs’ and ‘lows’? Hell no. I mess up all the time. I just don’t heap shame and judgement on myself as much anymore. I know that the adage of ‘in happiness not overjoyed, in sorrow not dejected’ doesn’t mean living a drab beige-coloured life, but finding a balanced and open welcome to all that life brings my way. I am building my abiding connection to inner resource through my practice now – which draws me like a moth to a flame – either on my yoga mat or my meditation stool or walking through the world with observing eyes and open heart. This, I am realising, is available for anyone who makes the space for it in their life.
My practice these days is far less self-discipline, and more an act of self-love. I come into this space where I launch most days from – this touchstone of quiet time with my breath, my body, my awareness – with anticipation.
Sometimes I wonder if my practice has a background motive of creating insurance against being blindsided by a major hurt/trauma/loss. Am I building enough inner resilience to deal with anything? Will I be able to avoid ever feeling pain again? Here is my clever mind trying to strike a deal with life, but I know it doesn’t work that way. The key, always, is being willing to abide in this moment with whatever is arising in experience, thought, emotions without turning away in fear or disgust. Action comes from a new place then, this deeper place of centre that I call inner resource. So I practice in the easy flow parts of life (like now) as diligently as in the ‘hard’ bits. Each bump along the road has its own riches to reveal if I loosen my clenched jaw and let the experience in. In the words of Michael Leunig (from ’The Prayer Tree’):
When the heart
Is cut or cracked or broken
Do not clutch it
Let the wound lie open.
Let the wind
From the good old sea blow in
To bathe the wound with salt
And let it sting.
Let a stray dog lick it
Let a bird lean in the hole and sing
A simple song like a tiny bell
And let it ring.
Let it go. Let it out.
Let it all unravel.
Let it free and it can be
A path on which to travel.