“Do not fear ‘not knowing.’ In various phases and periods of our lives, this is as it should be….So maybe we stumble around in the dark for a while trying to find what calls us, but because we have managed to not talk ourselves out of being summoned by the wild one, we invariably stumble over the soulskin. When we breathe up that soul-state, we automatically enter the feeling state of “This is right. I know what I need.” -Clarissa Pinkola Estes, from Women Who Run with the Wolves
"Strictly speaking, no one has ever 'healed' anyone else. A true 'healer' simply remains present, providing a safe field in which unfamiliar and intense energies can be felt, bound-up emotions can be released, and we can come out of time, out of the drama and chaos of 'My Life', and breathe into our bodies, fall into our own presence, simplify. Healing is not a destination, nor a special power in the hands of a few, it is the re-contacting of that which is healed, already whole, beyond the healer and the healed - our true nature." - Jeff Foster
Reflecting on the anniversary of 9/11, I remember the whole city (and probably the whole country) was suffering from collective PTSD. It was thick in the air -our shock and grief- and yet I was working triple time to escape it. Clubbing, drinking, partying as much as possible- putting a band-aid over the gash which only fueled my anger, hate and pain. I remember the uncertainty- wondering what the world would look like next collectively and individually for myself. Not knowing felt unbearable. I've never been good at it despite the fact that my greatest growth, clarity and healing has always come from surrendering into that space with faith and hope (after resisting like a two year old of course). The world made no sense then and didn't seem like it ever would again.
And yet 15 years later- for the first time- I feel ready to visit the memorial and even the museum. For the first time, I watched the images from that gruesome day on the news and felt the sadness, reflected and mourned again without needing to go meet my friend at Coogan’s for shots and beers to take the edge off. A testament to the process of healing that started for me when I began this journey three years ago- a process that continues today and everyday of committing to this yoga thing, this meditation thing, this exploration of the divine thing.
Don’t get me wrong. I still struggle with escapism daily (one of the main culprits now is Netflix!) and I’m not knocking and actually quite enjoy a beer on a cold summer day, and a scotch on a cold winter night along with the company of good friends. But it's not about running away anymore; it’s now actually about being present. And when I am escaping, I’m aware that I’m doing it (most of the time anyway).
I still struggle with the "not knowing" stuff. The last three years have been a practice of learning to live with the discomfort of going from a stable corporate job with all the fixin's to the extremely rewarding but much more unpredictable calling of teaching yoga. Everyday I have to check in with myself, and trust that following the summoning of the wild flow will take me where I need to be.
I was talking with my best friend and soul sister the other day after she experienced a big loss about grief and making peace and how one day there is relief and comprehension, and the next day we are sitting in the wound again- throbbing, questioning, maybe regretting...and then the next day relief again. And how it goes on that way (sometimes for years) until the throbbing is less and the relief more. Or on the flip side one day we feel so in love with our partner, work, craft that our hearts are soaring and bursting out of our chest and the next day it may be more tempered, less heightened or it may feel downright hard and impossible. It applies to the lows AND the highs and the best we can do is stay curious, ride it with courage and faith, compassion and acceptance remembering that the one thing that is constant and steady is always accessible within each of us...that true nature we all share.
It's ALL a process. Healing. Growth. Forgiveness. Trusting. Loving. Grieving. Rejoicing. Making peace with not knowing, even when things are good and full of potential, our nature is to want to know where it’s going NEXT and every detail of how it’s going to play out robbing us of whatever “good” is in the moment.
I’m learning to BE with the processes. To let them take me IN and help me connect to my true nature. To embrace the exquisite possibilities of not knowing, and to see that my grief and pain are the keys to wisdom and healing if I move through, them instead of running around them.
Looking up at the breezy clouds moving across a bright blue sky through the massive marble pillars- I felt like I was a character in a movie, temporarily transported back to ancient times. I felt rooted to the ground beneath me almost as firmly as those columns I was standing under. My gaze lifted up to the sky, which seemed suddenly more majestic through the filter of the structure I was contemplating: an energy of connectedness to the earth and the sky, the old, and the new moved through me in a powerful way and I felt the full meaning of the word, awe.
I was at the entry of the Pantheon in Rome, originally built in 27 BC, and while a little worse for wear (it could us a good scrubbing) still standing so sturdily that it really feels like it was built a few hundred years ago instead of a few thousand years ago. Almost two thousand years after it was built, the Pantheon's dome is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete dome. I left contemplating the importance of building strong foundations and bringing that contemplation into my yoga practice by diving into the pillars of the asanas- the physical yoga practice- which are the standing poses.
Tadasana (mountain pose), Trikonasana (triangle pose), Virabhadrasana 1, 2, and 3 (the Warriors), Vrksasana (tree pose)…and all the poses that require us to connect to our feet are the standing poses. They aren’t as glamourous or exciting as bakasana (crow) or handstand (adkho mukha vrksasana) but they are the fundamental, essential, poses that build a strong foundation in our bodies and minds to allow us to build to the more “fancy” asanas we often strive for with so much drive.
The great master, BKS Iyengar said: “In each asana, if the contact between the body and the floor- the foundation- is good, the asana will be performed well…Always watch your base. The standing poses are meant to begin providing this foundation for life…These postures teach one how to stand straight so that the brain can float in its position.”
The foundation at the pantheon is so solid that the minute you walk in you are super aware of your feet and connection to the floor, the ground, earth underneath you. At the same time, the columns are SO high, and there is an oculus in the dome (a circular opening) that allows the glory of the sky to come through from above. It is a great inspiration for yoga asana, that connection to the ground, that building from the bottom up, which in turn allows for and encourages the upper body to elevate.
A great example of this is Tadasana also known as Mountain pose, the mother and father of all yoga poses. In this apparently simple standing shape, your lower body from the waist down should feel like there are roots from your feet going into the earth like the base of the mountain, your legs should have life and energy- so much so that you feel the skin of your flesh stretch across the muscles, while your upper body, waist, ribs and chest and especially the crown of your head, reaches up for the sky like the peak of the mountain. These elements, the opposing energy of rooting down to rise up, so evident in structures like the Pantheon which elevates up to the heavens from a strong base- repeat in our body, and in yoga. We learn to cultivate that awareness through building connection and strength in the standing poses.
The foundational poses require concentration, focus, and discipline. And the benefits extend way beyond the physical.
Master Iyengar goes on to say: “When a person is mentally disturbed or dejected, you’ll notice he can’t stand straight on his feet…These postures help one to maintain stability in times of difficulty and even when catastrophes occur. When stability becomes a habit, maturity and clarity follow. Stability requires balance…Balance in the body is the foundation for balance in life.”
That saying that Rome wasn’t built in a day becomes very meaningful and clear when you visit a structure as perfect and enduring as the Pantheon. Our yoga practice is something we build over time, with attention, awareness, dedication, and discipline. It requires a commitment beyond the physical to hold Warrior 2 more than 5 breaths and to notice where you need to adjust your feet, engage your legs, support your hips and core, open the front of the body and elevate the upper body, all while maintaining the most fundamental foundation of ALL - your breathing- and not thinking about what you’re going to have for dinner after class.
And that’s the practice. The standing poses are how we build that endurance and perfection in our bodies and minds (and hearts). Not in one day, but day by day. And building solid foundations within ourselves allows us to build just as sturdy foundations in our relationships, goals, and in our lives.
One of my favorite movie scenes is the one from the Catherine Zeta Jones and Sean Connery flick, Entrapment. The one where they recreate the laser beams of the museum where the heist will take place and after weeks of practicing and studying she moves through the whole maze, blindfolded. Her movements are so graceful, and she is breathing so audibly the entire time, sensing as much as she is remembering and feeling as much as she is thinking. She has complete faith in herself because she is completely centered and integrating movement with breath.
This is what we strive for in our asana yoga practice. It is the fine art and practice of linking our breath to our movement. Easier said than done, but without it we might as well be doing Indian calisthenics.
The miracle of our practice is also the miracle of our lives. We go to bed every night and wake up everyday without giving our breath a second thought... we have blind faith that our breath will happen whether we are aware or conscious of it or not, and usually we are not, but we trust that it will keep us going, keep us alive.
Our breath is our unique spark and stamp on this universe. In sanskrit, it is called Prana and means life force energy. It is the essence of who we are and the most beautiful metaphor for faith and divinity: we can't see it, or touch it, but we can feel it and we know it is there. Our breath is the bridge between our physical body and our mind, heart and spirit. It is what binds all the parts of ourselves together.
In the yoga sutras, Ishvara Pranidhana is surrender or devotion to the divine. In our asana practice and in our meditation practice, we bring our full awareness to the beauty and mystery of our breath and if we are practicing yoga, we consciously surrender with faith to it's power, to that spark of our OWN divinity. We are literally building faith in ourselves through devotion in our practice. That is what yoga does. The pose is just the vehicle we use to go inwards and explore.
When we refine this crucial aspect of our practice, and let the breath reveal every sensation, every wound and blessing, every opening and closing, every strength and challenge, and embrace it all as part of our sacred, beautiful selves...we create a revolutionary self acceptance, self love, self confidence and self empowerment which we can then radiate to others. This is how we change ourselves and the world.
So remember in your asana practice to let the breath lead the movement, in your meditation practice to follow the breath and not the thought, and to honor your prana with every inhale and exhale In so doing, you are honoring and building the divine within yourself.
“Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.”