Setting the tone for moments of beginning and ending can powerfully change our experiences.
Only on an island can you watch the sun rise and set over the water. It’s a pretty special thing. We’re on vacation this week and, while watching the sun set is something we plan into our days, I stumbled onto my first sunrise by sheer chance. I’d headed out for my morning walk in the dark as always and managed to arrive on the harbor side of Boca Grande just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. It literally stopped me in my tracks.
For me, nothing brings to mind beginnings and endings like sunrise and sunset. The feelings of beginning that are stirred in me as I watch the sun rise are filled with hope, possibility and anticipation. When I watch the sun set, the feelings of ending that I experience are not sad. Rather, they are reflective, grateful and peaceful.
As I walked into that first vacation sunrise, it’s not surprising that I was excited for my day at the beach. But the nature of that excitement shifted as I watched the sun come up over the horizon. I was awash with gratitude for witnessing this sight. My eagerness for the day ahead softened. Rather than feeling specific in nature (“I want to do this and this and this …”), the possibility that I felt opened. I felt hopeful for all that might come my way. I felt willing to allow the day to unfold as it would, just grateful to be along for the ride.
While I’m usually alone as the sun comes up, sunsets here at the beach are typically times of community. Times of bonding, chatting and laughing. Conversations as the sun sets can turn a little reflective. As we sit together watching the day draw to a splendid close, it’s natural to look back over the day with gratitude. Endings like these leave me feeling complete and ready to rest in preparation for tomorrow.
Yoga teaches us to observe the tenor of beginnings and endings. It also teaches us a little about setting the tone for these moments. In most yoga styles, we embark upon our practice by moving through Sun Salutations (surya namaskar). In the first movement of these series we open our arms wide and reach our arms over our head. Because this is a simple, basic movement compared to the forward bends and downward facing dogs to come, it is easy to sail through it without paying much attention. It’s even easier to miss it when we’re rushed, stressed or distracted.
To miss the feelings of this little movement, however, is a huge loss. It’s like the sunrise of my practice. The movement cues feelings of joy. It symbolizes a welcoming greeting. It stirs up hope, possibility and anticipation. When I open my arms wide and stretch them over my head, I can’t help but smile. After ten in a row, those feelings have spread from my heart throughout my whole body. I am ready to go! Ready to allow my practice to unfold as it will, just grateful to be along for the ride.
Yoga also offers us a lesson in endings. Any practice of asana ends with some time in corpse pose (savasana). After all the movement of our practice, we move into stillness. Again, the posture itself is not challenging. We simply settle onto our backs, let our feet flop out to the side and rest the tops of our hands on the mat. However, the feelings this posture cues are even more powerful than those stirred up in our opening movement.
In savasana, it is said, we receive the gifts of the practice. As we settle in on our mats, quietly breathing, we have the opportunity to reflect back on our practice. It’s not necessary to mentally click through each asana we took along the way to feel awash in gratitude for all that transpired, for all that we’ve tried and for all that we’ve done. This is the sunset of our practice. This is our rest. Rather than preparing ourselves to practice again, however, in this rest we are preparing to enter back into our life. This preparation is not active. We are not planning, plotting and scheduling. The peaceful, open-handed, open-hearted nature of our savasana sets the tenor for our approach to the rest of our day.
It’s clearly easier to greet each day with wide, open arms and a soft smile while on vacation. It’s clearly easier to pause at the end of the day to reflect gratefully on all that filled it when cued to do so by a spectacular sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. But, just as we practice beginning and ending on our mats, vacation days can be practice. In the end, it’s all in our approach. And that is something we can learn to control. Just think, with a little practice, a normal day at home can be even more fulfilling than a day on vacation because it’s filled with our life’s work.
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