One of the things I truly value about yoga is the way my practice continues to astonish me in its self-propagating inertia. Two years ago, when I first returned to my practice, after a five-year hiatus, I was motivated by the promise of a more peaceful mind, but also by the prospect of a gentle strengthening and limbering of my body. I enjoyed learning about my physical strengths (flexibility) and weaknesses (lack of endurance and muscle mass). I also enjoyed the challenge of moving past those weaknesses to places that I never imagined myself inhabiting. Twenty-four months ago, I could never have conceived of myself pursuing inversions, such as handstands, in my home practice. Today, I can balance for nine breaths in a handstand. Granted, I still don’t have the core strength and stability to practice handstand away from a wall, but just being able to support my full body weight on my hands was a huge triumph for me.
Another new development is the way I suffer my twists. Yogis and yoginis believe that a deep twisting of the spinal column releases pent-up and unforeseen emotion. For most of my life, twisting freed a sense of sadness, sometimes even deep sorrow, which seemed to erupt out of nowhere with no environmental cause. When I returned to yoga two years ago, I noticed that rather than sadness, frequently anger was released when I moved into a deep twist. This anger, more often than not, was directed toward myself for my failures and missed opportunities. Recently, in my practice I have found that twisting has liberated a sense of longing and isolation. I remember my life with Kenny (my former partner of four years) and how this time we had has passed and it leaves me missing him and the intimacy we once shared.
I’ve also discovered a maturity in my connection to my feelings that come up in twists. I’ve learned to acknowledge and accept these emotions without seeking to immediately push them away or deny their existence. I wonder if this has something to do with my newly found acceptance of the eternal, unchanging aspects of being and of my connection with the universe at large. It is theorized that matter is neither created nor destroyed. There is something comforting about considering my relationship to the eternal nature of the cosmos at large. That I come from it and that I will return to it—really, that I can never be separated from it.
This feeling of union is most strongly manifested when I chant (both prior to and following my asana practice). When I first returned to yoga, what brought me to my mat was curiosity about what my body might achieve in any particular asana (pose). I wanted to push myself to the limits of my abilities and discover what my body was capable of. Now, what motivates me to practice is the sense of oneness I feel when I chant aum, when I intone the Gayatri, Purnamadah, or Mrityunjaya mantras (among many others), when I feel the vibration of the universe in my chest as I hold these phrases in my throat
Om Namah Shivaya – Om Namah Shivaya
I had the honor of attending a Kirtan event lead by Krishna Das earlier this year and what struck me most about the experience was how holy it felt. You must understand that I am not one for religion or dogma. I’ve eschewed all such beliefs in favor of an existential perspective on life. Namely, what we know is what we might observe in this lifetime. As to whether other lives follow, I couldn’t say and was largely unconcerned. I thought it was valiant to accept my aloneness and not try to link myself to an omnipotent being. Nevertheless, I could not shake my attraction to the concept of sublime Grace and of blessedness. Although, I still can not accept a personified/anthropomorphic God/Goddess, I feel a presence when I chant. Perhaps it is the life force (the prana) of those around me. After all, yoga is really about moving energy. The asanas (poses) are simply a tool to achieve that movement. Perhaps I feel my own energy, the energy of my fellow yogis and yoginis, and also the energy of the universe.
The nature of this experience has yet to be revealed to me, but I can acknowledge the power of prayer. Yes, prayer. As I’ve been led to chant, I’ve realized that no matter how much I deny it intellectually, what I am really doing is praying. Yoga exposes to me the presence of the sublime in my own being and I can not deny this happening. I can only accept it, as I’ve learned to accept my own sadness, my own anger, my own isolation, and my own limitations. What is new is that I’ve come to understand that all of these things can co-exist with a deeper knowledge of the sublime, of the connection b/t all things be they alive, dead or have yet to live. It is an incredible thing, this yoga.
Om Namah Shivaya.