In my last blog I mentioned having a picture in my head of tall, willow-y, completely physically able (whatever that means), bendy yoga types and how that is so not me.
What I learned though, once I got my ego out of the way, is that all of those images are so not yoga. Yoga is not a destination, it is a journey. A journey that takes away all images, all pretenses, all ego based illusions, fears and doubts. But, to tell you how I got there I need to go back to the beginning and to the first night of my very first yoga class.
The night of my first class was a warmish night around Valentine’s Day so I walked (using that term loosely) over and, once in the building, made my way down the hall to the practice room.
Going down that hall I felt such fear and unworthiness and just sooo disabled trying to do yoga “in my condition” that I just wanted to turn and walk right back home. As you can probably predict though, I didn’t. Instead, I went into my practice.
The instructor and I had decided that, at least to start, we would do yoga from my chair. So, the shoes came off, the foot rests on the wheelchair went up and I was asked to plant my feet, to root to the earth, to breathe and to quiet my mind. Check, check, check and what the? The quiet part was not a check and more of a confirmation of the nattering monkeys running around in my head. It went something like:
You shouldn’t be doing this.
This is ridiculous.
Please be quiet.
This is not yoga or how you do yoga. Have you not seen Madonna?
Please, please, please be quiet…
There were other thoughts jammed in there too likely thoughts about what other people would think of what I was doing and how I was doing it; thoughts about the day that had just passed and the day that was yet to come; the route I would take to get home, what a color is, where babies come from—who knows!
What I do know is that my mind was racing at faster than its normal warp speed and felt like a car going out of control. Until for the briefest of moments it just stopped, there was nothing; a silence came over me and I knew we were on to something. The moment passed as quickly as it came but it was there and remains among the realest feelings I have ever felt.
Once the noise came back we went back and forth for what felt like an eternity until meditation time was over and then with some gentle yet firm help I was bent in ways that were previously unimaginable to me. Both legs bent underneath me, one leg at a time upon shoulders and then bent, me bent over myself touching my feet, head practically on the floor.
I was sweating and red and hot; stretching away, feeling slightly nauseous and lo and behold doing what I was supposed to be doing—focusing on my breathing and getting through it.
Suddenly ego had left the building and I noticed myself feeling amazed that with just a little help and a push and a bend in the right direction I was doing yoga —wheelchair, “disability” and all.
Suddenly it didn’t matter how I looked or feared I looked; it did not matter that I was not doing things the same way as everybody else because there is not one way. I was bending to yoga and yoga was bending to me. It was a beautiful moment and I felt energized and thrilled and so happy that I was near tears.
The walk home from yoga that night felt very different than the walk to yoga. I felt light and free from the prison my mind had perceived my own body as being for so long. And that is what yoga takes away—the prison of pretense and the illusion of who we are or who need to be in order to manifest our own highest good.
What Yoga Keeps
What yoga keeps is the baggage. All of the stuff that we tend to cart around that is heavy, not on wheels and more than extraneous—it is simply unnecessary.
In reflecting on the walk home from my first yoga class, I realized that I felt so much lighter because yoga had kept all that had been weighing me down: my fears, insecurities, doubts and feelings of unworthiness.
By breathing in and out and just allowing myself to be I had released some of the things that were keeping me away from myself.
Yet as unnecessary as all of the fears, the insecurities, the resentments and the ego based delusions are they can become so much a part of our reality that it feels like we just don’t know how to put it all down.
In one of my favourite movies, Wes Anderson’s “The Darjeeling Limited,” three brothers travel across India by train trying to find their mother, connect as siblings and mourn the loss of their father. On their journey each brother carts around multiple pieces of luggage that had belonged to Dad.
At the end of the film (skip down if you don’t want to know), having experienced life and death the brothers are running to catch a train and one by one, they release the pieces of baggage that had been slowing them down.
It is such a beautiful and powerful image and one that perfectly captures what yoga does because as you keep practicing–the better and more fluid you get—the more you are able to cast off whatever it is that is weighing you down. And, just as it is in the film, it can feel like slow motion.
There is no quick fix, workaround or easy exit with yoga. It forces you to take the time to cultivate stillness, fluidity and ease both in practice and eventually, hopefully, in life. In order to get there you have to be willing to travel over some rough terrain. Be willing to go through the valleys of your ego and the depths of your mind arriving, with time, at the peaks of your heart.
Diane Ackerman said it best when she wrote that:
“It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between”.
Yoga takes you through that savage and beautiful country. It takes you to places you tried to navigate around or keep in the dark and brings them fully into the light. You get to breathe in and then breathe out all of the things you no longer need to keep. Yoga will keep them for you. It is the storehouse and the receptacle for all that is no longer required.
Yoga doesn’t solve any mysteries or provide any answers. If anything, it deepens the mystery and the wonder of life. It makes you realize there are no answers most of the time and that there are some discomforts that you just have to sit with, move through and come out on the other side. So, while it may not give all of the answers you can unload, unburden and let yoga keep whatever it is that you no longer need.
Christine Quaglia is 31 years old and lives in Southwestern Ontario. She is a former English major who will always count reading and writing among her first loves. Christine is (relatively) new to Yoga and has enjoyed developing her practice even in the face of a physical disability. It is great to be sharing this piece of my story with the elephant journal audience.
Editor: Hayley Samuelson.