Lately, life feels like a never-ending vinyasa.
Rhythmic, flowing, full of fire, but with little time to blog, let alone take a balasana breather. I’d like to write more, but later this week I’m setting off on an intensive ten-day self-study retreat at the Himalayan Institute, so what to do? I’ve resolved that as I would with yoga. There are times for a full practice, and then there are days when we can only work one angle. So, here’s some ramblings on balasana, a pose of rest which also allows for awareness and self reflection.
My need to take a time-out, as well as the topic of my last post, got me thinking a lot about Labor Day. The holiday was essentially brought to us by unions, and they’re sure taking a beating in Congress these days. Regardless of how you feel about them, I doubt there’s anyone out there declining their day off for beaches and barbecues.
Labor Day is our Official Balasana Holiday. It’s symbolically a time to savor the last sweetness of the summer before we return to our downward dog eat dog world. Just like balasana, this holiday can be as much a time for conscious contemplation as it is for chilling out.
If you have a job, be grateful for it.
If you hate your job, explore whether there’s any one small thing you can start to do towards something that will make you tick.
If you love your job but toil too hard, or find yourself always pressed for more time, where can you find balance or set a boundary?
Today I’m also thinking about one of my favorite poems, Walt Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing.” I’m probably the 1,000th person to pull this out on Labor Day, but hopefully one of the first to interpret in terms of Pantanjali’s Sutra’s.
I Hear America Singing. By Walt Whitman.I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The woodcutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.
The surface message alone is inspiring. Whitman honors the collective workers – craftsman, really – coming together to create America’s industrial assembly and aesthetic, while paying the same homage to the stay home mother as to the macho mechanic (an unprecedented American concept in 1860) From the yogi’s perspective it’s like the idea of the universal Om, everyone an equal part, each one contributing to the chant, or “singing,” as he says.
If you want to apply Whitman’s words in more earthly terms, think about this: When he writes of each worker singing, he means that whatever we may be doing, whether we’re buried in paperwork on the job, or stuck in a menial task, keep singing. Surrender, and stay present. “The mason signing as he makes ready for work or leaves for work” reminds me of yoga’s principle of non-duality: to be alike in both pleasure and pain. We seek our santosha (contentment) in whatever task or situation at hand.
And then, or course, there’s “the night party of young fellows.” Well, all I can say is, go Walt. That’s what Labor Day is about too. A time to celebrate in whatever way is right for you. Celebrate yourself (note: see Whitman’s “Song of Myself”(I celebrate myself, and sing myself/And what I assume you shall assume/For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you) and celebrate all the fruits of your labor.
And as you inhale one last time in balasana, savoring the last remains of Labor Day, and prepare to return to adho mukha savasana, be mindful as you flow through your vinyasas. Control your breath, open your heart, engage and lengthen. Be mindful as you transition, and move with grace. Return again and again to your practice (abhyasa) and develop your strength and discipline.
But most of all, don’t forget to take balasana at regular intervals. Do not listen your ego, even if she looks like Gwyneth Paltrow sassing you to put on your big girl $90.00 yoga pants and take another vinyasa. Slow down. Take balasana. You needn’t listen to her. And you needn’t wait until another holiday to sing your glorious song.
Julie Balter is a film industry veteran, a yoga teacher rookie, and a writer at heart. She blends these three passions and personas in “Yogi After Forty: a blog about bending, stretching & growing up.” (www.yogiafterforty.blogspot.com) “After Forty” explores the poetics of yoga practice and the metaphors we take from the mat, often drawing from her slight obsession with cinema and 1970s pop culture. Julie just completed her yoga teacher training at Prana Yoga in Miami, Florida where she now works as an instructor. Her teaching style interweaves storytelling and symbolism with a challenging practice which inspires students to explore their potential, while embracing a sense of humor.
Julie is also a former student of Goddard College’s MFA Creative Writing Program, and hopes to complete her degree in this lifetime. Her writing has been featured in several periodicals and the anthology, “The Thong Also Rises: Further Adventures of Funny Women on the Road” (Travelers Tales). Articles and writing samples are available upon request through [email protected]. In her free time, Julie is learning to draw yoga stick figures from the great masters, and dedicates too much time to creating musical playlists for class, even though she knows she’s not supposed to play the music too loud.