May 27, 2011

What’s Weighing You Down?

Even The Most Precious Treasures Can Get Heavy.

Walking on the beach is one of my all-time most favorite things. I love the smell of the salt in the air, the slightly fishy tang that wafts up when you kick a pile of seaweed and the indescribable scent of water mixed with sun. I love the warmth of the sun on my skin and that crispy feeling I get after drying from a swim in the waves. I feel a little younger, a little less responsible, a little sillier on the beach. I feel carefree – free to jump in the water when the impulse hits, to chase a crab through a tidal pool if I want, to meander at a snail’s pace while looking for shells or to zoom to the lighthouse depending on my mood.

Over the weekend, I took a particularly memorable walk on a beach with a friend. The day was spectacular. The beach was gorgeous. The water was warm and inviting. Our conversation was stellar. A little soul-sharing mixed with some really good laughs. As we walked and talked, we roamed from the warm dry sand, to the wet flats where the waves washed in. We plunged out to a sand bar and back. As we walked my hands filled with treasures. I found several hard-to-find olive shells, a handful of conchs, three unbroken whelks and two gorgeous bits of coral. The crème de la crème of my finds, however, were three sand dollars. As we walked back to our chairs, I carefully juggled my loot from hand to hand, mindful of the sand dollars’ fragility. It wasn’t until we came upon the tidal pool again, however, that I realized how weighted down by my treasure I was.

When we’d walked through the pool before, we’d plunged right in and splashed to the other side. The thought of falling never crossed my mind. If it had, I might have laughed. Falling in that clear, blue pool of water between the sand bar and the beach would have been a treat! Now, however, I found myself tiptoeing along the edge. I scanned the beach ahead of me for a different route. I worried about losing my footing. I worried about falling. Really, I was worried about losing my shells. Holding onto my treasures, it seemed, had (momentarily) stolen my sense of fun!

Practicing yoga teaches us a lot about all the “stuff” we hold onto and how it can weigh us down. While it’s rare for us to show up on our mats laden with things like my handfuls of shells, rest assured that most of us do show up laden with “stuff.” At one time or another, I’ve showed up with a desire for progress, fear of balancing on my hands, resistance to modifications in postures I “should” be able to do and frustration at my limitations. Thankfully, I tend not to bring all my “stuff” at once. (Forget about full hands! I’d need a steamer trunk!) But even one of these is enough to slow me down, to trip me up, to throw a worry or two in my path. In short, even one of these is enough to steal my sense of fun.

When I’m weighted down with cravings for progress, I rob myself of the joy of being where I am. When I allow my fear to steer me away from hand balancing, I also allow it to make off with the little adventure I could have had by trying. When I resist modifying a posture to suit my body, choosing instead to force myself into the pose, I don’t just risk injury. I also miss out on the opportunity to release into the stretch – which is why we unroll our mats in the first place!

Moving and breathing on our mats helps us work with our “stuff.” First, and most importantly, we get better at recognizing what we’re carrying. If I see my frustration or fear or desires are weighing me down, tripping me up, or holding me back, it is a little easier to set them down. Sometimes, however, our “stuff” is actually worth holding onto. After all, desire can inspire us. Fear can protect us. Frustration can be the very thing that keeps us trying again and again. As we play around on our mats, we become confident in our ability to tell what “stuff” to keep and what to set aside. Knowing the choice is ours to make has a powerful effect on our approach to our journey.

As I stood hesitantly at the edge of that tidal pool realizing how heavy my seashell treasures had become, I had a choice to make. I could set the shells down for someone else to find and go for a great swim. Or I could carry on. It only took a moment for me to decide that those sand dollars were the perfect gifts for my three kids. Just like on my mat, it turns out that some “stuff” is worth carrying.

 PS I was happily floating in that spectacular water again the moment my shells were safely nestled in the seat of my chair!

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